Apple has touched off speculation of a looming hardware update with the release of the first beta versions of iOS 5.1.
The iOS 5.1 beta is available for testing through the iOS Developer Center, and includes new development tools for the Xcode platform and a possible update for the iPad tablet.
Apple news blog 9to5Mac reported that the iOS 5.1 code refers to the iPad 2.4, which will include support for WiMax and could be intended for use with US carrier Sprint with a possible launch date in March.
The update also includes additional developer APIs and improved support for Apple's iCloud data storage service.
The release comes as Apple and other hardware vendors look to boost sales at the start of the holiday shopping season. Apple kicked off a Black Friday sales campaign last week that included a $61 discount for the iPad.
Researchers estimate that the iPad has 73 per cent of the tablet market, but Apple has faced stiff competition in recent months.
Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire in September, offering an Android-based reader tablet that undercuts the iPad with a $199 price tag.
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