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Apple Event Ignites iPad 2 Speculation

The iPad 2 is expected to make its debut at a special event Apple is hosting in San Francisco on March 2, along with some other surprises.

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Reports about the iPad 2 have been mounting in intensity in recent weeks, as Apple has yet to announce details of a refresh for its iconic tablet computer. On Wednesday morning, it sent invitations to reporters for an event scheduled for March 2.

The invitation shows an iOS app being peeled from an iPad. It reads "Come See What 2011 Will Be The Year Of." The invite alone more or less confirms that Apple will announce the iPad 2 next week.

Nothing is revealed about the next iPad itself. Most expect the iPad 2 to have the same size, shape, and resolution display, though it might offer updated processors, cameras, and support for varying wireless networks.

Apple has timed this event strategically considering that the Motorola Xoom tablet goes on sale Thursday. Knowing that Apple will probably announce a new iPad next week, how many would-be Xoom buyers will put off their purchase at least a week to see what Apple reveals? The mere announcement of this event could throw water on the Xoom's retail debut.

RIM's PlayBook is also set to make its retail debut in the coming weeks. Apple needed to at least announce its next tablet ahead of the PlayBook's arrival in stores, even if the iPad won't be available immediately.

Speaking of availability, reports have been all over the map on when we can expect to see the next iPad actually hit store shelves. Analysts have suggested that the iPad 2's retail debut will be delayed at least until June due to production issues. Reuters claims, to the contrary, that the iPad won't be delayed and should hit the street mere weeks after it is announced.

In addition to a new iPad, it would be a good time for Apple to show off the next version of iOS. iOS 5.0 (or whatever it will be called) may not debut with the new iPad, but it would be surprising if Apple didn't offer a few clues about what we can expect in the next generation of iOS software.

The event, will take place at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, a venue that Apple has used often for product introductions, could offer more than just the next-generation iPad.

Apple's MacBook Pros are in need of a refresh, at least internally (with the latest chips) if not externally with respect to design. Reports have revealed images of MacBooks with larger touchpads and high-speed Light Peak ports. Yet other reports suggest that the next-generation MacBook Pros will use an internal solid-state drive to store the operating system and applications, while offering an optical hard drive for storage. Apple hasn't confirmed any of these reports.

Apple also gave us a sneak peak of OS X Lion last fall when it debuted the new MacBook Air. With Lion's release slated for this summer, Apple will likely provide a more in-depth preview of what we can expect from Lion.

Whatever it is that Apple has up its sleeve for March 2, you can be sure that tablet makers of every stripe will be paying close attention.

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