Apple Inc. on Wednesday unveiled the second generation of its iPad, in a move to stay ahead in the increasingly crowded tablet computer arena.
"We are introducing the iPad 2 today," Steve Jobs, Apple's chief executive officer, said at an event in San Francisco.
The surprising appearance of Jobs on stage, who in January announced that he will take an indefinite medical leave, made the event more dramatic and helped quell speculations about his health.
"We've been working on this product for a while, and I didn't want to miss today," Jobs told the audience, who cheered him with a standing ovation.
All new design
Though the iPad 2 has the same 9.7-inch touch screen, not smaller as earlier reports speculated, it was touted by Jobs to be a completely new design.
The new version is faster, thinner and lighter than the previous iPad that went on sale in April last year, while having the same 10-hour battery life.
It features a new dual-core A5 chip. At a thickness of 8.8 mm and weight of 1.3 pounds (about 0.59 kilograms), it is 33 percent thinner and up to 15 percent lighter than the original iPad, and is actually thinner than Apple's iPhone 4 smartphone.
The iPad 2 is equipped with both front and rear cameras, meaning users can use the device for video talking.
It also comes with iOS 4.3, latest version of Apple's mobile operating system, with new features including faster mobile browsing performance.
Jobs said the new tablet will support Verizon Wireless and AT&T, two of the largest wireless carriers in the United States which use different network technologies, from day one and will be shipping in both white and black colors.
The iPad 2 is scheduled to hit U.S. market on March 11, followed by other countries and regions on March 25 at a starting price of 499 U.S. dollars, the same as the previous generation.
Raise the bar
The first iPad, which hit the market at the beginning of April last year, can let users perform various tasks including browsing the Web, watching videos, playing games and reading ebooks.
By the end of 2010, Apple sold nearly 14.8 million units of iPad in nine months, which according to Jobs, were "more than every tablet PC ever sold."
Ignited by Apple's iPad, a new product category was created. The exploding tablet computer market has now become the new strategic battleground for consumer electronics industry, research firm PRTM said in a recent study.
By the end of 2010, 30 tablets were already on the market, and PRTM's study showed that the tally now stands at 102 tablets either for sale or in development by 64 makers.
"We've gotten off to an exceptional first year. We'd like to build on that. What about 2011? Everyone's got a tablet. Will 2011 be the year of the copycat? If we did nothing, maybe a little bit . .. probably not," Jobs said at Wednesday's event.
Faced with intensified competition, it is critical for Apple to exploit its lead with quick innovations to create barriers to rivals, some analysts said.
"While others have been scrambling to copy the first generation iPad, we're launching iPad 2, which moves the bar far ahead of the competition and will likely cause them to go back to the drawing boards yet again," an Apple press release quoted Jobs as saying.