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Apple Introduces iPad 2

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After receiving a standing ovation from an enthusiastic group of technology journalists, Apple CEO Steve Jobs briefly interrupted his medical leave to unveil the latest version of the company's breakthrough tablet computer: the iPad 2.

This iPad seems to have exceeded everyone's wish lists. It's thinner and lighter than the previous model, has a far more powerful processor, contains front- and rear-facing cameras, and keeps the same pricing.

The iPad 2 measures 8.8mm thick, compared to 13.4mm for the first iPad. Even the iPhone 4 is thicker at 9.5mm. It weighs 1.3 pounds, compared to the original iPad at 1.5 pounds.

One of the few gripes about the original iPad was that it lacked a camera. The iPad 2 has two of them: a rear camera that takes 720p video at up to 30 frames per second and a front camera that shoots VGA video at up to 30 frames per second. Both can be used with the new FaceTime feature that iPad 2 owners can use to video chat with Mac desktop, laptop, or iPhone owners. Owners can also shoot video and then edit it with the new iMovie app for iPad.

The iPad 2 is powered by a dual-core A5 processor, making it the first dual-core tablet. Jobs promised the CPU was up to two times faster and that it would handle graphics up to nine times faster.

"The graphics on this thing are wonderful," Jobs said.

Owners will enjoy the same long battery life with the iPad 2 as with the original iPad: it can run for 10 hours on a charge or last for over a month on standby.

"Adding all this stuff and making it way thinner, something has to give. You would think that it would have to give up some of the battery life. But the engineering team found a way to produce the same 10 hour battery life," said Jobs.

The iPad 2 will come in black and white models, in three Wi-Fi-only configurations and three that support 3G connections. Apple is offering both AT&T and Verizon versions of the 3G models. Pricing starts at $499 and product will be available March 11 in the U.S., then in additional countries on March 25.

While many in the tech world are already calling this an incremental upgrade, it's a significant release. Anyone who held out buying the first iPad will be glad they waited.

Apple also introduced a helpful video accessory that lets owners connect their iPads to their HDMI-enabled TVs. The $39 HDMI video-out cable lets owners mirror their screens on their TVs and works with up to 1080p resolution.   

The latest version of iOS, Apple's mobile operating system, will also be available on March 11. iOS 4.3 will offer an improved JavaScript engine for the Safari browser, letting it handle JavaScript at twice the speed. Mobile devices will gain iTunes Home Sharing, and AirPlay improvements will let owners stream videos or photos to their Apple TVs.

The iOS update will also let iPhone 4 owners create Wi-Fi hotspots, and will bring PhotoBooth and FaceTime apps to the iPad 2. The update will work with 3rd and 4th generation iPod Touches, as well.

Apple's iMovie app is getting a major makeover and will bring movie editing to the iPad. The $4.99 app will include precision editing, over 50 sound effects, and the ability to record voice-overs. Sharing features will let owners send their videos to YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, and CNN iReport with one click. Created videos can also be shown on Apple TVs using AirPlay.

Finally, GarageBand is coming to the iPad, letting owners play virtual instruments and create songs with eight-track recording and mixing. When playing a keyboard, the iPad 2 will recognize how firmly a key is pressed, thanks to its accelerometer. A smart guitar option gives non-players groupings of chords that sound good together. The GarageBand app will be available March 11. Both apps will cost $4.99.

Jobs returned at the end of the hour-long presentation to talk about the need for more intuitive devices in the post-PC era.

"Our competitors are looking at this like it's the next PC market. That is not the right approach to this. These are post-PC devices that need to be easier to use than a PC, more intuitive," Jobs said.

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