) --


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shares are set for a boost from the company's likely

iPad 2 launch

later this week, according to Goldman Sachs analyst Bill Shope.

Apple is widely expected to debut the new iPad at an event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco on Wednesday, significantly ramping up the pressure on tablet rivals such as


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Research In Motion



"Overall, we expect the device to provide an early line of defense against the wave of tablet competitors arriving in the coming months, and we expect the launch to represent a positive catalyst for Apple's stock," wrote Goldman analyst Bill Shope, in a note released on Sunday. "While the details on the upcoming iPad 2's specifications are scarce, we expect the device to represent an important upgrade."

Apple shares have risen 73% over the last 12 months to reach $354.15, although Shope reiterated his $450 price target and buy rating for the stock.

The iPad, launched last year, has been a raging success, and the consumer tech giant already has sold more than

14.77 million tablets

. The iPad also accounted for

75% of global tablet shipments

during the December quarter, according to research recently released by Strategy Analytics.

The rumor mill is already spinning with

potential iPad 2 features

, such as front and rear-facing cameras, Face Time video calling and an improved display.

"It appears that Apple is once again pushing the technology envelope by making the device far thinner than the original iPad," added Shope, also predicting an updated processor and improved graphics capabilities.


revealed an A4 processor built by


within the original iPad, which could be revamped for the iPad 2. There have also been


that the new iPad will come with a dual-core

SGX543 graphics processor


Imagination Technologies


Shope, however, thinks that an iPad running on super-fast LTE telecom networks is still be some way off.

"We expect the company to support both GSM and CDMA technology

on the iPad2, but we do not expect the company to support LTE at this time," he wrote. "While LTE remains an incredibly attractive opportunity for mobile device companies, we believe Apple is choosing to delay adoption in order to prevent any degradation to iPad battery life."

Apple has not yet responded to


request for comment on this story.

--Written by James Rogers in New York.

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