Apple CEO Steve Jobs briefly emerged from his medical leave and walked on stage to standing ovation Wednesday to unveil the second generation of the popular iPad, which will go on sale worldwide later this month.
Jobs looked frail as he appeared in his signature black mock turtleneck, blue jeans and wire-rimmed glasses.
"We've been working on this product for a while, and I just didn't want to miss today," Jobs said. "Thank you for having me."
The next-generation tablet computer has a faster processor than the original iPad's. As expected, it comes with two cameras for taking photos and video chatting. The battery life will be the same as the original — about 10 hours of usage and a month on standby.
The iPad 2 is also thinner — 8.8 millimeters instead of the current 13.4 millimeters.
"The new iPad 2 is actually thinner than your iPhone 4," Jobs said.
The original iPad, which burst onto the scene last April, was more popular than analysts imagined. Apple sold 15 million in nine months.
The iPad was used for checking e-mail, surfing the Web, watching online video and other personal media tasks, but as the number of small applications designed just for iPad grew, the tablet made itself at home in offices, shops, restaurants and countless other professional and hobbyist settings.
The rush for iPads sparked dozens of copycat touch-screen devices, but so far, none have broken into the mainstream consciousness the way the iPad has. In February, Motorola Mobility Inc.'s Xoom, the most promising challenger so far, went on sale. It runs a new version of Google Inc.'s Android software that was designed for tablets, not smart phones.
Tablet computers existed long before the iPad, but it took Apple to build a device that made sense to consumers. Apple simplified the software, packed it in sleek, shiny hardware and sold it to a generation of gadget lovers who, most likely, already have a smart phone and a laptop that serve most of the same functions.
The new iPads will cost the same as the originals — $499 to $829, depending on storage space and whether or not they can connect to the Internet over a cellular network. Apple said there will be black and white versions, despite its problems getting the promised white iPhone 4 models to market. The first iPad came only in black. In the US, the iPad 2 will work on AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless.
Jobs also introduced a new accessory for the iPad that will let people connect the tablet to high-definition televisions, so they can watch videos up to 1080p in resolution on the bigger screen. The $39 part plugs into the iPad's charging port and connects to an HDMI cable.
After its March 11 US launch, the iPad 2 goes on sale March 25 in at least 26 other markets, including Mexico, New Zealand, Spain and other European countries.
Apple also introduced updates to the software that runs on the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch devices.
The new system, iOS 4.3, includes support for FaceTime, Apple's video-chat program. The company said people can now hold conversations between iPads, iPhones and Mac computers.
The update turns iPhones and iPads with 3G cellular connections into personal Wi-Fi hotspots, so you can share the connection with computers or other devices.
The improved software also makes Apple's Safari Web browser run faster.
Apple also announced new software designed for the iPad, including a $4.99 version of iMovie for video editing and a $4.99 version of GarageBand, its music recording and editing software. GarageBand includes instruments that can be played by touching the iPad 2's screen, and it can even sense whether you're tapping quietly or banging on the "keys." People can start a project on their Mac, then work on it later on the iPad 2.
Jobs gave an update on the company's iBook business, saying people downloaded more than 100 million tomes since the e-book business launched last year. He also said Random House became the last major publisher to agree to sell its titles in the iBookstore.
Jobs announced in January that he would take a third leave of absence to focus on his health. In the last decade, Jobs, 56, has survived a rare but curable form of pancreatic cancer and undergone a liver transplant.
Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook has been running day-to-day operations.
In 2009, Jobs said in advance that he would take a six-month medical leave; this time, the company did not specify when he would return. The last time Jobs went on medical leave, marketing chief Phil Schiller was the main presenter at product launch events.