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iPad 2 with FaceTime camera coming next spring, say analysts

Supply chain experts believe the iPad 2 will be a thinner and lighter model with a camera for FaceTime -- but it won't be a 7-inch version.

The second-generation iPad will be ready by next spring according to industry analysts, and it will have a camera for video calling.

Goldman Sachs, citing sources in the supply chain, believes the iPad 2 will be a 9.7-inch model, the same size as the current version, AppleInsider reports. It'll be thinner and lighter than the original though, and add a camera and miniUSB connection.

The camera would enable Apple's FaceTime video-chat software to be used on the tablet, which could transform the way it's used and match the video-conferencing abilities of upcoming tablets from rival companies such as RIM and Samsung.

The launch of the iPad 2 for spring is very plausible. The Taiwanese website DigiTimes quotes suppliers as saying the iPad 2 will be ready in the first quarter of next year. January, just 12 months after the launch of the first iPad, may be too soon -- Goldman Sachs considers a year too little time to properly develop and launch a new model.

As far as a possible iPad 2 with a 7-inch screen is concerned, the project has not been finalised and unlikely to come before a new 9.7-inch model. It has been strongly rumoured though, and would make sense considering two of the iPad's main rivals, the Samsung Galaxy Tab and BlackBerry PlayBook, are 7-inch devices.

Apple has single-handedly created a new market for useable consumer tablets with the iPad. It's been a massive success for the company, with other manufacturers now following in its wake with their own devices. Our eyes have been particularly drawn to the Galaxy Tab and the just-announced PlayBook. Both look like credible alternatives, with the Galaxy Tab running Android 2.2 and the PlayBook set to run a completely new internally developed OS.

If these reports are accurate and Apple has a second, improved iPad ready to go, can its competitors hope to keep up, when none have yet launched their own first-gen models?