[This article was published as part of a feature on predictions for 2011, with Apple set to launch the iPad 2 on Wednesday, we thought it would be good to take another look at what we thought the new model might hold.]

Where 2010 was the year of the iPad, 2011 will be the year of the tablet as other devices come on the scene. Joining the party are Research In Motion’s (RIM’s) BlackBerry tablet, the PlayBook, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, the Cisco Cius, and others from HP, Dell and Lenovo, the main difference is that many of these iPad rivals are built on a smaller 7in form factor. 

So will Apple bring out a 7in iPad to compete? Not likely. Steve Jobs criticised these so-called ‘iPad killers’, pointing out that a 7in screen is just 45 per cent of the area of an iPad screen. Jobs went further and added: “The only way they’re going to sell is if they come with sandpaper, because you’re going to have to sand people’s fingers down so they can work it. You can’t run the software you need on a screen that small.”

These vendors have pitched the smaller size – and lower weight – as benefits compared to the iPad. A smaller tablet can fit in a jacket pocket or handbag, and the lighter weight is easier to manage one-handed.

The dirty secret, though, is the current version of the Android operating system that drives these devices isn’t designed for tablets, and doesn’t play well at sizes more than 7in. 

It’s no coincidence that as Google prepares to launch Android 3.0 vendors are developing larger Android tablets. It will be interesting to see how those companies that pitched the virtues of 7in will market larger versions. 

On that note, could the iPad get even bigger? A widescreen version would be more suitable for watching movies, with the added bonus of more keyboard space. 

Should Apple be concerned about the competition? The iPad has been selling well to date, so well that Apple admitted it couldn’t meet demand for the device. Last quarter, 4.19 million iPads were sold, and some analysts have suggested sales will hit 6 million in the Christmas quarter. A Strategy Analytics report said the iPad had 95 per cent of the tablet market last quarter. But things are different now that other tablets have launched. How will Apple fare now? Some analysts estimate the market for tablet devices to be about 25 million units for 2011, while others think it will soar to 54.8 million by the end of 2011. What percentage of this figure will Apple gain? Apple will ship 45 million iPads in 2011, calculates Ticonderoga Securities analyst Brian White, while Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster,  usually bullish where Apple is concerned, thinks 21 million iPads will be sold in 2011. 

Helping Apple’s quest to sell more iPads will be the iPad 2. The most obvious new features will be a front-facing video camera and FaceTime – Apple’s launch of FaceTime on the iPhone, then the iPod touch and now the Mac, means its absence from the iPad is bewildering. 

FaceTime could make the iPad even more accessible to business: video calling may appeal to people who travel frequently. Apple has added other business targeted features, such as wireless printing with iOS 4.2, and with the advent of cloud-hosted software, the iPad could become the perfect device for the salesman. 

Other new features you can expect to see are a more powerful processor, a Retina display screen, and more memory: right now, the iPhone 4 has twice the memory of the iPad (512MB compared to 256MB).

So, when will you be able to get your hands on the new iPad? Many predict availability in April 2011, one year after the first iPad went on sale. However, the launch, or an early unveiling, could happen much sooner, perhaps to coincide with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January. Apple won’t attend CES, but there’s nothing to stop it from making an announcement to steal the thunder of its competitors.  

Read the rest of the feature here: 

Macworld Feature: Apple in 2011 - Smartphones get smarter

Macworld Feature: Apple in 2011 - Enter the Lion

Macworld Feature: Apple in 2011 - Slack Software

Macworld Feature: Apple in 2011 - Business matters

Macworld Feature: Apple in 2011 - Apple’s Mac strategy