Sources speaking to the Wall Street Journal claim that Sharp is a new supplier of iPad LCD panels. One source claims that the relationship involves Apple investing in some of Sharp's Japanese manufacturing facilities. Specifically, Sharp's Kameyama No. 2 plant in central Japan is tipped to manufacturer LCD panels for Apple's next iPad expected in 2012. Sharp, an existing supplier of iPhone and iPod touch panels, will also be making panels for Apple's next generation iPhone, according to the same report, also expected sometime next year. Unfortunately, the WSJ doesn't mention the resolution or size of the panels widely speculated to bring a more "retina-like" pixel density to the third-generation iPad.

The bond between Sharp and Apple had been rumored ever since December when Nikkei business daily reported that the two companies would spend $1.2 billion to expand plant capacity, with Apple providing most of that investment.

The WSJ report is backed by a separate research note from analyst Peter Misek of Jefferies & Co, based upon a recent visit to Japan and conversations with manufacturing execs. The analyst goes even further though, claiming that the relationship might yield the elusive Apple TV by mid 2012 at the earliest, built around a modified amorphous TFT display. Misek claims that the "iTV," as he calls it, will likely begin ramping up for manufacturing as early as February.