Asian sources claim the iPad 2 will ship by the end of February 2011, in time for a rumored April launch. It should’ve shipped in January, but the firmware couldn’t be finished in time – hence the delay.

This is the gist of a new report that Taiwanese trade publication Digitimes published Tuesday morning, citing sources from component makers. Initial iPad 2 shipments should reach 400,000-600,000 units until Foxconn rams up production, the publication claims.

The sources pointed out that the iPad 2 will ship as soon as the end of February in 2011. Apple originally planned to start mass production in January, but because the device’s firmware is currently still in testing, Apple has been postponing the schedule.

The report also noted that iPad 2 will be manufactured mainly in Foxconn’s Shenzen factories because the new factories in Chengdu are still in pilot production. 

In the third quarter, Apple had about 1.8 million iPad units of channel inventory and the company is expected to order additional 1.8 million iPad units in January before it starts clearing up the channel ahead of the iPad 2 launch in April, Digitimes wrote.

According to the rumor-mill, iPad 2 should sport all sorts of enhancements, from a USB port for external storage to the Retina Display technology for high-resolution display to a faster CPU and GPU combo.

One item on everyone’s wish list seems pretty plausible – a forward-facing camera for FaceTime videoconferencing. Considering Apple this year added FaceTime to both the iPhone and iPod touch that already sold more than twenty million units, the iPad should be next for FaceTime treatment. 

While the front-facing camera is a no-brainer, we’re not so sure about the back camera – it could be awkward shooting video holding such a large device. Digitimes’ report could be credible for this newspaper is deeply entrenched with Asian component makers and contract manufacturers.

However, it should be noted that Digitimes’ track record of Apple reporting is a hit-and-miss affair so take this one with a few pinches of salt. Of course, the iPad successor is undoubtedly coming, it’s just a question of when. 

Fans are calling for an early April 2011 availability, which fits nicely into Apple’s annual hardware upgrade cycle. On the other hand, Apple may want to bring iPad 2 sooner to the market because it’s already feeling competitive pressure – be it due to the notable success of the Samsung Galaxy Tab, from the upcoming BlackBerry PlayBook tablet from Research In Motion, or the forthcoming tablet-optimized Android 3.0 software dubbed "Honeycomb" that will power a vast array of tablets in 2011.

Source: Digitimes