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Our Apple iPad 2 launch predictions

Apple will announce the iPad 2 later today at a special event in San Francisco and the rumours are coming thick and fast.

The overriding opinion is that the second coming of Apple's ground-breaking tablet PC will be a bit of a disappointment, not least because so many predictions have been made about what the next iteration will offer that it all seems a bit like old news now that we actually come to the announcement.

Apple always plays its new product cards so close to its chest that tech hacks will clutch at any available straw to get the scoop on the Cupertino company, and the much-anticipated iPad 2 is certainly no exception.

Those suffering from Apple antipathy will no doubt suggest that anything added to the next iteration of the pioneering iPad will simply be the company's way of bringing the marque up to the standard it should have set in the first place, but those are the same people who espoused the gadget's irrelevance and predicted its ultimate failure in the first place.

It's hard to fathom that it's a little over a year since Steve Jobs first took to the stage to present the iPad to the world on January 27th 2010. Many dismissed the shiny gadget as an overgrown iPhone and mocked its lack of buttons, ports, cameras and unwillingness to play nicely with Adobe's Flash.

But Apple has been more than vindicated for its apparently flawed vision with staggering sales in excess of 15 million and demand still outstripping supply in some areas.

Since the original launch, more than 100 tablet devices in a bewildering array of sizes shapes and OS configurations have been mooted, modelled, or in some cases actually made, and all of them owe more than a little to the iPad's short but stellar legacy.

Most have addressed the original iPad's perceived shortcomings, adding dual cameras and enough connectivity options to make a fully wired device look like a forlorn roadkill octopus.

The world and its Wi-Fi has had a stab at what Apple will bring to the table at this evening's announcement - and we'll be live blogging the event should you not have access to an Intel Mac or an iOS4 device which are the traditional entry requirements to Apple's live video sermons - but no-one really knows what, or indeed who, will stride onto the stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts at 6pm UK time today.

Whether Steve Jobs will drag himself out of his sick bed to take some part in the presentation is open to conjecture, but the odds are the poorly Apple frontman will hand the reigns to one of his underlings - most likely COO Tim Cook, marketing guru Phil Schiller, British design wunderkind Johny Ive or a some combination of the three.

If this were the launch of an entirely new product we have no doubt Steve would be there regardless of his current state of health, but the iPad 2 is, after all, little more than a refresh to an existing product - as far as we can tell.

And so to out entirely unscientific an ill-informed predictions for the iPad 2.

There seems to little doubt in most minds that the gadget will feature at least one camera, an opinion lent some weight by the vast swathes of iPad 2 cases on show at this year's CeBit bash in Hannover, all of which feature front-facing holes where a lens would be.

And a recent snap unearthed by Boy Genius Report suggests that a second rear-facing camera could also make an appearance:

That same shot also seems to put paid to persistent rumours that the iPad 2 would have a swanky new chassis built from some super-light carbon fibre variant because painting such a visually trendy material to look like aluminium would be churlish to say the least.

Leaked shots of display panels have suggested that the refresh will feature a thinner bezel which in turn would mean a smaller, lighter chassis, but other shots of a possible white variant suggest that both the panel and the overall footprint would remain the same.

There have been more mutterings about updated and improved processors than you could shake a stick at and there seems little doubt that Apple will roll out an updated SoC, possibly even a dual-core beast, probably designed by Brit chip shop ARM and almost certainly manufactured by Samsung.

Motorola's forthcoming Android-powered Xoom features just such a processor and Apple will be keen not to let Johnny-come-latelys and wannabes rain on its parade with more impressive innards.

Apple may even use the event to announce the release of iOS5 which could certainly do with a kick in the pants when it comes to processor-intensive operations like video playback and multitasking, both of which would gain much benefit from a beefier CPU.

Perhaps the biggest talking point when it comes to the iPad 2 has been the resolution of the display on the next generation.

Although the current display is pretty crisp to all but the sharpest of eyes, the iPhone's stunning Retina Display made the entire tech industry take stock of screen resolutions for mobile devices and Apple will certainly be keen to steal a march on the competition.

The chances of the iPad2 sporting a full 326 pixels per inch Retina Display are, in our book at least, pretty slim. The iPhone's screen was developed in order to exceed the resolution visible to the human eye at a comfortable distance of around 11 inches. The iPad, on the other hand, is more commonly used at a distance of 15 to 20 inches which would make the expense of a full Retina Display a bit redundant.

Apple has also recently laid its cards on the table of Intel's new Thunderbolt I/O technology which is capable of driving HD displays as well as up to seven other peripherals, including storage devices, capable of 10-gigabit-per-second data transfers in both directions at the same time, and we wouldn't be entirely surprised to see the iPad 2 sporting the port formerly known as Light Peak.

To recap, we're going for two cameras, one on the back of the device capable of 720p HD capture, one (possibly lower resolution although Face Time HD might demand more) above the display.

A new touch panel with a thinner bezel approaching the resolution of the Retina Display but not quite getting there, making the whole device slightly smaller and lighter.

A new dual-core CPU with improved graphics and better multitasking to go along with an upgrade to the operating system to iOS5, which will also unify the iPhone and iPad versions for the first time.

And the inclusion of a Thunderbolt port which will allow the iPad to be hooked up to an HD TV or external monitor, give access to super-fast external storage and other peripherals, and not least make Apple a fortune selling the various cable adaptors needed at 30 quid a pop.

The only thing that is really clear in our crystal ball is that Apple's complete and utter dominance of the tablet market will soon be challenged by more powerful, better equipped and possibly even cheaper usurpers.

If it doesn't pull something special out of the bag marked 'iPad 2' this evening, there's no telling what might happen to that extraordinary 93 per cent slice of the tablet pie.