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Suppliers believe Apple could ship 45 million iPads in 2011

Sales of the iPad in 2011 could exceed some of the highest expectations, as overseas component makers have indicated that Apple could sell 45 million of its touchscreen tablet this year.

Analyst Brian White with Ticonderoga Securities is on day 6 of his tech trip to China and Taiwan. In his meetings with component suppliers, sources have revealed expectations that Apple will sell between 40 million and 45 million iPads in 2011.

White said he heard those same figures in a separate visit to Asia last fall, but "at the time, this number was difficult for many investors and some in the media to get their heads around."

Sales of 45 million iPads would be well beyond the 30.9 million units White has forecast that Apple will sell in 2011. For comparison, analyst Charlie Wolf with Needham & Company sees Apple selling 30 million iPads, and Mike Abramsky with RBC Capital Markets has called for 28 million in 2011. Taiwanese publication DigiTimes also cited industry sources in March, who suggested Apple would ship 40 million iPads in 2011.

To put the totals in perspective, Apple sold 15 million of the first-generation iPad in 2010, when it was only available for nine months. Last year's expansion of availability, both to new stores domestically and launching in new countries internationally, was also considerably slower than this year's rapid rollout.

AAPL investors will get their first look at calendar 2011 iPad sales next week, when Apple will report its earnings for the second quarter of its fiscal 2011. That period covers the first three months of 2011, including the few weeks where the iPad 2 was on sale.