Apple will start shipping a new version of its iPad tablet computer by the end of February as it seeks to ward off growing competition from rival devices powered by Google and Microsoft operating systems, according to a report by the technology site Digitimes.

The report said that Apple’s Chinese manufacturer Foxconn Electronics had been notified that initial shipments of between 400,00 to 600,000 iPad2 units would begin by the end of February with sales expected to begin in April.

Apple launched the iPad in April 2010 and had sold some 7.5 million units by mid October, making the device one of the most successful new products in tech history.

With the product only just launching in South Korea and Latin America, and with a particularly strong holiday season expected, analysts predict that sales by the end of the year could reach 14.5 million.