Apple formally announced its next-generation iPad at a San Francisco event March 2, ending months of speculation over how the company would advance its popular tablet. Officially dubbed the iPad 2, the newest device includes hardware upgrades that bring it level with the newest high-end competitors, most notably the Motorola Xoom.
In a twist that surprised many audience members, in light of his recently announced leave of absence for undisclosed medical reasons, Apple CEO Steve Jobs took the stage to unveil this latest offering. "I didn't want to miss it," he said, as media furiously live-blogged his comments. CNN also provided a slightly delayed live stream.
Jobs then painted a quick picture of Apple's inroads into the mobile scene: 100 million iPhones shipped, $2 billion to developers in application sales, 200 million accounts for the company's three online storefronts (iTunes, App Store and iBooks), and 15 million iPads sold.
"Is 2011 going to be the year of the copycats? I think if we did nothing, maybe a little bit," he said. "But we haven't been resting on our laurels."
That was the cue for the iPad 2 to appear on the giant screen behind him. "What have we learned? What can we improve?" Of the tablet, he said: "It's a complete new design. First thing is: It's dramatically faster. We have a new chip we call A5."
In addition to a dual-core processor, the 9.7-inch iPad 2 includes a built-in gyroscope, front- and rear-facing cameras. It weighs 1.3 pounds. "Now, having built in all of this stuff, one of the most startling things about the iPad 2 is that it is dramatically thinner," Jobs said. "A third thinner, 33 percent thinner."
That makes it slimmer than the iPhone 4. The iPad 2's casing will also be offered in either black or white. "We're going to be shipping white from day one," Jobs added. "In addition to having both colors, we also have models that work with both AT&T and Verizon's 3G network from day one."
In keeping with his pugnacious attitude toward other companies in the tablet space, Jobs couldn't resist taking a backhand swipe at the Motorola Xoom, a 10.1-inch Android tablet that retails for $799. Citing the prices for the various models of iPad 2, which mirror those of the original iPad, he said: "Five of these six models are less expensive than $799. We only have one model that's more expensive than $799."
Both iOS 4.3 and the iPad 2 will be available March 11.
"Nothing really revolutionary here," analyst Jack Gold wrote in a widespread note to media following the Apple event. "What's still missing (and was expected to be missing) was Flash support. This is a key differentiator for the Android (and PlayBook) camps that provide Flash support."
Apple fans will likely flock to the device, Gold added, "but I don't see any overwhelmingly compelling capabilities that would make people sitting on the tablet fence go out and have to buy one, despite some attractive apps. I don't see this as heads above the competition (especially the Xoom) right now."
Apple faces markedly ramped-up competition this year from not only the Motorola Xoom, but also a variety of offerings from Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Dell Streak 7. Google Android 3.0, code-named "Honeycomb," has been optimized for the tablet form factor. However, the number of applications available for the Android Marketplace still lags behind that of Apple's App Store.