Apple's iPad 2 To Ship March 11 Starting At $499
San Francisco (CNN) -- With a surprise appearance by CEO Steve Jobs, Apple on Wednesday debuted the iPad 2, updating the gadget that's become practically synonymous with tablet computing.
"So what's new?" said Jobs, who appeared at the event to a standing ovation. "It's an all-new design."
He said the new tablet will be "dramatically faster" than its predecessor.
Apple got a huge head start in the touchscreen tablet race with its iPad, but in recent months, rivals have begun catching up.
Now Apple is hoping to widen its lead again.
• The new version of the device which launches on March 11, will be thinner and lighter than its predecessor, down to 1.3 pounds from 1.5.
• It will have front and rear-facing cameras designed for video chatting. Apple is adding its FaceTime chat app -- as well as a Photo Booth program that does exactly what its name implies -- to take advantage of the cameras.
• Unlike Apple's popular iPhone 4, it will be available in white as well as black. Also unlike the new iPhone, the iPad 2 won't have a high-resolution screen, which Apple calls a Retina Display.
• It will have the same battery life as the current iPad, 10 hours.
• With an HDMI accessory, the iPad can be connected to a television and mirror what's on the tablet's screen.
"Teachers want to hook iPads up to their flatscreens in the classrooms," Jobs said. "And you can even charge the iPad while you're using it."
• Like the iPhone, the iPad 2 will include a gyroscope, a feature that will enhance gaming options. Changes to the processor that powers the device could also dramatically propel the iPad as a game-playing device.
• A new operating system, iOS 4.3, will roll out the same day as the iPad 2. Jobs said the system will let iPhone 4 users create Wi-Fi hotspots to share wireless internet with other gadgets.
Jobs, the iconic company leader, had been facing renewed speculation about his health.
"We've been working on this project for a while and I didn't want to miss this," he said. Several CNN staffers at the event described Jobs as looking thin, as usual, but energetic and happy.
The iPad 2 will ship on March 11 in the United States and March 25 in at least 26 other countries.
In an announcement that could rock the "tablet wars," Jobs said the new iPad will have the same price structure as the current one -- ranging from $499 to $829.
Jobs also spent a good deal of time talking about a new cover available for the device.
The Smart Cover is a thin sheet that attaches to the iPad with magnets. When not being used, it can fold back and act as a stand for the tablet.
It's available for $39 in polyurethane -- "which is used to make spacesuits," Jobs said -- and $69 in leather.
The launch of a next-generation iPad comes as a new wave of competing gadgets threatens Apple's dominance in the tablet market. Motorola Mobility's Xoom went on sale last month and was greeted with rave reviews for its fast, feature-rich hardware and attractive Android software from Google.
Samsung unveiled its Galaxy Tab late last year, and BlackBerry is expected to launch a tablet, the Playbook, this spring. One consulting firm counts a whopping 102 tablets that are either on sale or in progress from 64 different manufacturers.
The first iPad was introduced in January 2010 and debuted in April, with Wi-Fi models that cost as little as $499. (The 3G-enabled Xoom costs $600 and requires a two-year contract with Verizon Wireless.)
Apple's tablet surprised some analysts by becoming a runaway hit. The company sold 14.8 million iPads worldwide in the first nine months the device was available. Analysts forecast Apple will sell about 30 million tablets this year.
"People laughed at us for using the word magical," Jobs said Wednesday. "But you know what? It's turned out to be magical."
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