The countdown to the launch of the iPad 2 began the moment the first iteration was announced. In fact, even beforehand. But now, it's almost upon us.

In a few short hours, an Apple representative - possibly Jobs, probably Cook - will unveil the company's new tablet to the world, and reveal its new features, unique selling points and bells and whistles, with many of them having been public knowledge for some time.

However, so much hyperbole has been talked, written and printed over the last year, with some of it being truly insane nonsense, that it's hard to assess what's real and what's not; what's rumours and what's simply rheumatic.

So sit back, and let Pocket-lint take you through the story of the iPad 2, and each of its purported features...

Even before the first iPad was born, the rumour that the next generation will feature camera support had started. And, to be honest, it's stuck throughout.

A front-facing camera, at the very least, is a shoo-in; after all, Apple's sticking FaceTime on everything at the moment. iPhone 4? FaceTime. MacBook Pro? FaceTime. iMac? FaceTime. Even Steve Jobs' black turtlenecks are currently being fitted with FaceTime support. Perhaps.

The rear camera is somewhat more of a mystery though. Who would use their 10-inch iPad as a camcorder? You might as well use a cheeseboard. Or the seventh bound volume of collected Unexplained monthly magazines.

However, there could be some cunning augmented reality applications for a rear-mounted lens, so we'll remain semi-sceptical, rather than go the whole hog. And speaking of which, have you checked out Pocket-lint's current smorgasbord of AR-dedicated writings as part of our AR Week? There's always space for a shameless plug.

No, really. At one point, the Internet was awash with rumours that the iPad 2 will feature an OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display. The reasoning being that the technology is getting cheaper, and the screen sizes bigger. It won't, of course.

This caused a lot of consternation back in November and again in January. Apple commentator John Gruber claimed that his sources told him that the iPad 2 will not have a Retina display, nor will its resolution be increased (from the current model). However, Engadget's editor, Josh Topolsky disagreed, stating that "from what we?ve been told, the thinner, sleeker tablet will sport a new screen technology that is akin to (though not the same as) the iPhone 4?s Retina Display and will be 'super high resolution'".

In all likelihood, and from more a much more recent report, Topolsky is wrong. A source believed to be an Apple staff-member claims that the iPad 2 will be an incrementally improved version of the existing iPad, suggesting that the screen will remain exactly the same. Instead, we'll have to wait for iPad 3 before a new technology, such as Retina display, will be employed.

According to a research note put out by Rodman & Renshaw analyst Ashok Kumar, and backed up by a few Chinese whispers, Apple is looking to put out a 7-inch iPad in 2011.

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However, according to eye witness reports, the new iPad 2 is definitely the same size as the current generation. That's not to say that Apple won't consider it later in the year.

It won't though. Even Samsung's heading away from that particular sector.

Not much has been talked about the iPad 2's potential dual-docking ability - the idea that it has an additional docking slot on one side as well as the bottom, in order to dock it horizontally - possibly because it makes complete sense.

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It first appeared on an Apple patent sketch back in the tail-end of 2010, and we'd be surprised if the company doesn't implement this obvious feature. It could sell more official docks then. Cynical? Us?

This rumour was started in November 2010, and hasn't completely gone away yet. Some, such as Chinese case manufacturers, claim that they were sent specifications from Apple that told them to build in a gap for a card slot, even though it seems at odds with the Cupertino company's strategy until now.

The same Apple-inside source that poured scorn on the Retina display, has also poo-poohed the idea of an SD card slot. And even industry bigwigs, reporting on Twitter and the like, now accept that its inclusion is improbable.

The same goes for a USB port. Although Thunderbolt connectivity, it seems, would be preferred by Apple - just not this time.

Rather than something added, this juicy piece of gossip ruminated over the removal of an existing element, the home button. A Boy Genius Report source suggested that Apple may have gotten rid of the small round button at the bottom of the screen once and for all.

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It comes about because of one of the features of the new iOS 4.3 build (as revealed in the beta version doing the rounds amongst developers) uses four or five fingered pinching to return to the home screen. If implemented on the final version, it could negate the need for the home button.

However, who really wants to worry about four or five fingered pinching during an app, in order to escape? And what about double-clicking to access the multi-tasking bar? It seems far-fetched to us.

It's no surprise that the mobile business is getting excited over, ahem, mobile business, and specifically the adoption of NFC (near field communication) for payments and banking. Many of Apple's rivals are already starting to implement the technology into their devices.

Certainly, the employment by Apple of eminent NFC-expert, Benjamin Vigier as product manager for mobile commerce, suggests that the company is definitely looking in the right direction. However, none of the major rival tablets (Galaxy Tab 10.1 or Motorola Xoom included) will feature the technology on release, and it seems unlikely that Apple will be the trend-setter on such an untried new system.

Additionally, would you really want to swipe your 10-inch tablet across a reader when buying a tin of beans? It's meant to make things more simple than using a credit card, not clumsier.

Leaked fascia parts are very simple to knock up, so it's hard to validate the pictures that came out of the iFixYouri iPhone repair shop in China. And how long have we been waiting for a white iPhone?

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However, there's no real reason to think that Apple wouldn't want to offer the iPad 2 in differently-coloured options, it has form in that area after all.

That said, a white surround can be distracting if you're watching video, for example. It's the reason most flatscreen TVs have black bezels these days.

If genuine though, at least it also debunks the vanishing home button rumour.

Lastly, we seriously hope that the mock-up model that appeared at CES 2011 in January and on a Chinese iPhone parts company's website last month proves to be wide of the mark.

Claiming to be built from the specifications given to case manufacturers, and supported by prospective cases appearing at Macworld Expo, the iPad 2 mock-up is aesthetically the tablet equivalent of Mickey Rourke. It's got all the bits in the right place, but looks like its been battered to within an inch of its life.

Pictures show it to have a thinner footprint and outer ring, but if it genuinely looks exactly like this, we don't care. And neither will Motorola or Samsung.

The most recent rumour of them all has just appeared online today, with possibly the most convincing pictures yet.

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While completely unsubstantiated at present, this version of the iPad 2 does tick all the right boxes, and actually bears a passing resemblance to the mock up we've just flamed. However, it's sleek and shiny in the same way as the other one isn't.

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And if it does turn out to be true, the new model may not have as many new grandstanding features as we would've hoped, but is definitely size "0". It's thinner than Apple's excuse as to why there's still no Flash video support.

So that's it, the shouting is almost over, and it's time for the darn thing to reveal itself.

The best way to tell whether any of these rumours are right or not, though, will be to join Pocket-lint for its unparalleled coverage of the Apple launch this evening. We'll see you here.

Which of the rumours do you believe are true? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below...

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