According to the Japanese blog Macotakara (which can be accurate with Apple rumor reporting), Apple’s contract manufacturers Foxconn Electronics (also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry) and Pegatron Technology have issued orders to begin assembly of next-generation iPads for an early-March launch.

The report is based on unnamed Chinese sources, and it noted the iPad 3 will look virtually identical to iPad 2 while featuring the same hardware button configuration, shape of the dock connector and  position of the two cameras. Even the Smart Cover will work with iPad 3; although, tipsters mentioned magnets will be placed in a “different position.”  Some form fitting cases may not work, however, as the device is slightly thicker, probably to accommodate added parts.

Such a description validates yesterday’s iLounge story based on editor Jeremy Horwitz’s alleged hands-on experience with an iPad 3 prototype that he said is focused on internal changes rather than chassis redesign. Macotakara also noted that Sharp would provide panels for the device that sport a 2048-by-1536-pixel resolution. This is in line with earlier reports by DigiTimes and the Wall Street Journal.

Interestingly, the Macotakara report said Pegatron would account for nearly 85 percent of iPad production with Foxconn taking care of the remaining 15 percent of manufacturing output. This division is similar to iPhone 4S manufacturing, but it also contradicts yesterday’s DigiTimes reportDigiTimes claimed the iPad 3 marks a change in Apple’s outsourcing strategy. According to the publication’s supply chain sources, Apple wants Pegatron to primarily focus on iPad production and run an auxiliary iPhone operation while it is vice versa for Foxconn Macotakara’s report that appears to corroborate a flurry of rumors originating from iLounge and Asian trade publication DigiTimes. Both reports called for a slightly thicker tablet with a high-resolution display said to be of a Retina variety. In the meantime, electronic components —said to be replacement parts for iPad 3— are leaking out of far east, some of which can be seen in Macotakara’s clip below.

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