It’s a pretty safe bet that we’ll be seeing a new iPad sometime early next year. How big it’ll be and how many we’ll get are open questions.

Rumors in the past few months have hinted at the possibility of a 7-inch iPad to go along with the current 9.7-inch model, and based on my brief hands-on time with the recently announced 7 inch Samsung Galaxy Tab,, a smaller, easy-to-hold iPad with a 7-inch screen might be a smart addition to the iPad line (although I personally prefer the 9.7-inch display).

But analysts at Goldman Sachs are pouring cold water on the 7-inch-iPad rumor, claiming in a recent note to investors that the supposed smaller iPad “hasn’t been finalized,” and that a new iPad slated for the second quarter of next year will retain the 9.7-inch display of the current model.

In addition, say the Goldman Sachs analysts (who are presumably basing their claims on anonymous sources and the usual industry “supply-line checks”; Apple, as usual, is keeping its lips sealed for now), the iPad 2 will be “thinner and lighter” than the original, with a built-in camera (for FaceTime video chat, one would hope) and a mini USB port — an addition that would address users’ annoyance with the current iPad’s single 30-pin (and proprietary) connector.

Of course, these latest iPad rumors are still way preliminary. I’m guessing we’re still months away from the unveiling of a new iPad (or iPads, as the case may be), and I’m sure we’ll be getting a steady drip of iPad predictions in the meantime. Still, the Goldman Sachs report serves as a good jumping-off point for those of us pondering what we’d like to see in the next iPad.

A build-in camera for video chat, of course, would be a good start; one camera or two, though? Both the Samsung Tab and the just unveiled BlackBerry PlayBook have two cameras, one in the front and one in back. But are dual cameras necessary in a tablet? I’d think that a single lens in front for video chat might be enough, considering that most of us already have cameras in our phones, but hey … that’s me.

Now, given the choice of a second camera and a tablet that’s thinner and lighter, I’d go for the thin and light option. The current 9.7-inch iPad weighs in at about 1.5 pounds — perfectly fine in terms of toting around in a carry-on bag, but a bit on the heavy side when you’re holding it in your hand, especially if you’re reading a lengthy e-book. If a new 9.7-inch iPad could shave a half pound or more off its overall weight without sacrificing too much of its (extraordinary) battery life, that would make for a major improvement.

I’d also like to see the next iPad screen come with a tighter pixel density, something akin to the Retina display on the current iPhone 4 and the latest iPod Touch. A display that’s easier to read in direct sunlight would also be a nice touch, but short of some breakthrough in e-paper technology (which excels at readability outdoors but is still pretty shaky when it comes to color or full-motion video) in the coming months, I wouldn’t get too excited on that front.

As for a 7-inch iPad … yes, I think it would be a good idea at some point. I’m a fan of the existing 9.7-inch display for its full-size on-screen QWERTY keypad and for watching HD movies, but a smaller iPad could be the perfect fit for those more interested in using the iPad as an e-reader than a movie viewer.