Baseball, warmer weather, and Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) new iPad are essentially locks as springtime arrivals.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the iPad 2 is currently in production at China's notorious Foxconn, according to "people familiar with the matter."

No one should be shocked by the news. We're closing in on the first anniversary of the original iPad's debut. Apple just loves to refresh its product lines annually. Besides, Taiwan's DigiTimes broke this story two months ago.

Deep inside the iPad 2
Apple isn't going to confirm the Journal's story. The company is at a healthy run rate of selling current-generation iPads. The last thing that Apple wants to do is stall existing inventory levels, which is essentially what would happen if the public knew for sure that a better iPad was just weeks away.

The Journal confirms many of the features that have been rumored.

  • The new iPad will be thinner and lighter than the original.
  • There will be at least one front-facing camera for FaceTime videoconferencing.
  • More memory? More powerful graphics processor? You got it!

The first model sold nearly 15 million units last year, and that was after hitting the market in early April. There's no reason to believe that the iPad 2 won't be even bigger, especially since it's likely hitting the market at the same price points as what will soon be inferior originals.

Nothing can stop Apple now, right?

Well, not so fast.

Attack of the iPad killers
Apple has the tablet market cornered, but that may not last.

Heads turned when Samsung leaned on Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android to crank out the Galaxy Tab. It shipped 2 million units in two months, which was impressive until investors eventually realized that there's sometimes a big difference between tablets shipped and tablets sold.

However, the next few months will be more competitive than the past few months for Apple. There's already hype building for several unreleased tablets.

  • Motorola Mobility's (NYSE: MMI) XOOM -- the first tablet running Google's tablet-centric Android 3.0 Honeycomb operating system -- hits the market later this month.
  • It's been a slow start, but Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) is ready to cash in on last year's Palm acquisition with webOS tablets.
  • Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) has taken lumps for the tweener nature of its 5-inch and 7-inch Android gadgets. Yesterday, it unveiled a 10-inch tablet running Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) Windows 7.
  • Research In Motion's (Nasdaq: RIMM) PlayBook has potential given the company's massive base of BlackBerry users. We still don't have a firm release date, but RIM would be smart to hit the market before the iPad 2 arrives in April.

Strength in numbers
Individually, none of these tablets would make much of a dent against Apple's iPad. Collectively, though, it's an entirely different story.

Let's revisit what the tablet market should look like in a few months.

Google's open-source Android will continue to provide tablet makers and wireless carriers the means to either undercut the iPad on price or load up on specs and attack as a premium tablet. The arrival of webOS tablets should appeal to Palm purists. RIM will be strong in the corporate market where its BlackBerry continues to reign supreme. The arrival of Windows-fueled tablets will be a hit with both enterprises and consumers familiar with the market-leading PC operating system.

Apple knew that it was going to be in for a fight. A lot of the features in the new iPad are upgrades that it would have preferred to sprinkle in over the next few years. It can't do that. The tablet market is going to be far more competitive by the end of this year than it was at the beginning. Cupertino needs to show up strong in April.

It will. It just may have to settle for thinning market share of a widening pie.

What tablet do you think has the best chance to catch Apple's iPad? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Google and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. The Fool has written puts on Apple. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has an original iPad, but he may be tempted to stray this year. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.