Several of our sources have piped up with a few interesting details in light of the upcoming MacBook Pro, iPad 2, and iPhone 5 announcements, which we’ll present here for your consideration.

* The February 2011 MacBook Pro is an incremental update to the prior aluminum unibody versions we’ve all seen before. Next year is the year when Apple will introduce an all new design for the MacBook Pro product family, which is already under development at Quanta in Taiwan. It’s being described as a big, “milestone” release for the Pro family, as compared with the speed bump features that will be introduced in tomorrow’s models.

* The iPhone 5 is on track for a June announcement, with worldwide shipments by August or earlier—obviously the U.S. will be the earliest to receive units, followed by other countries thereafter.

* Two reliable sources are suggesting that next week’s “iPad 2” event has some serious cliffhanger potential—as in, consumers may not see the real “iPad 2” for some time. There’s apparently some truth to the reports of production problems with the new model, and as a result, no one is really sure at this point what Apple is going to be shipping as the “iPad 2,” or when.

To be clear, sources continue to claim that the “iPad 2” mockup that we were the first to spot last month represents the redesigned rear casing of an upcoming iPad. Dozens of accessory makers have already created early cases meant to fit this new rear shell, which has different dimensions and radiuses than the original iPad’s. Some of these companies are actively sending out e-mails claiming that they’re ready to ship these cases right now.

 

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But last August, Apple was rumored to be working on a more modest incremental update to the iPad that was going to add a front-facing camera, with a possible release date of right before the holidays. That last part sounded crazy—impossible, really—even though it did sound like Apple was testing something that wasn’t quite an iPad 2, but was actually more like an iPad 1.5, sort of like the third-generation iPod touch. (You remember that one, right? The one where Apple pulled the rear camera at the last minute due to production problems.) If the real “iPad 2” wasn’t ready in time, Apple could just release the mildly tweaked version as a stop-gap measure. This would explain John Gruber’s “guess” that Apple is planning to release an “iPad 2” and an “iPad 3” this year; Apple, of course, would prefer that its customers always think they’re getting a full next-generation product rather than some half-step down the road to something better. (More on that, in a separate article.)

In any case, our sources aren’t sure whether Apple is going to release the iPad 1.5 now and call it the iPad 2, hold off a few months and release something dramatically better, or hold off a few months and release the iPad 1.5. The sources strongly believe that Apple cannot possibly ship enough truly “new” iPads to meet a late March or early April release date. One expects that Apple will only preview the next iPad at next week’s event, then release it widely around June. A price drop for the current model would keep sales flowing until then.

We’re going to say something we’ve said before: we trust our sources, but this is sort of hard to swallow. Even given all of the odd release date shakiness Apple has had with the white iPhone 4 over the past eight months, Apple’s track record on announcing and then shipping new products is pretty solid. Given that there’s a popular iPad available to purchase in stores right now, Apple would not spend a month leaking information on the new version, lowering expectations all the while, and then use a special event solely to tell people to wait three more months for the new product. Unless really serious and very last-minute production problems forced it to use a price drop or similar step to keep customers happy before a refresh. We’ll know what’s up next week, and we’ll let you know what we hear between now and then.