GOSSIP: Apple Unveils Thinner, Faster iPad with Camera

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A year after revitalizing the once-sleepy, now red-hot tablet market with the original iPad, Apple surprised absolutely no one Wednesday by taking the wrapper off a slimmer, trimmer version of the wildly popular slate, complete with a front-facing camera for video chat (finally!) and a souped-up processor.

The new iPad 2 took the spotlight during a press event at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, with none other than Apple CEO Steve Jobs—who is still on medical leave, mind you (“he looks good,” Engadget noted on its live blog)—taking the stage to unveil the much-anticipated follow-up to the best-selling original.

The “dramatically faster” iPad 2 boasts a dual-core A5 “system on a chip” processor under the hood, said Jobs, good for twice the CPU power and nine times the graphics performance of the original while maintaining the same 10-hour battery life.

Also new: dual cameras (at last), including a front-facing camera for VGA-quality video chat, while the rear camera will be good for 720p video capture. (Apple hasn’t listed specific megapixel counts for the iPad 2’s cameras yet.)

As predicted, the 9.7-inch display on the iPad 2 has the same resolution as that on the original: 1,024 by 768, to be exact, disappointing news for anyone hoping that the new iPad would boast an improved “retina”-style display.

Measuring 9.5 by 7.3 by 0.34 inches, the iPad 2 is slightly shorter and narrower than the original (according to Apple’s specs, at least), with the listed weight of 1.33 pounds (or 1.35 for the 3G-enabled iPad 2) a bit lighter than the iPad 1.

As with the first iPad, the iPad 2 comes with Apple’s proprietary 30-pin dock connector for syncing and charging, along with a 3.5mm headset jack. Missing in action, however, is a slot for SD (or microSD) memory cards.

A white version of the iPad will be available on “Day One,” promised Jobs, with Apple probably hoping to avoid last year’s debacle of the white iPhone that never quite arrived.

The iPad 2 retains the same price points as the original: $499 for the 16GB version, $599 for the 32GB model, and $699 for the 64GB model. The 3G-enabled versions will again come at a $130 premium, and they’ll be available for both AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

The ship date? March 11 in the U.S., and March 25 in 26 additional countries.

Jobs also announced a new “Smart Cover” to go along with the iPad 2—one with magnetic clasps that either wakes up the iPad or puts it to sleep depending on whether it’s being attached or removed. The polyurethane version of the case will sell for $39, while a pricier leather one goes for $69.

Another new accessory is a $39 HDMI video-out cable that’s capable of 1080p video mirroring. The cable works with all iPad apps, Jobs said, and it’ll charge your iPad when plugged into a power source.

March 11 will also see the release of iOS version 4.3, with new features such as personal hotspot support for the iPhone 4 (nice), a speedier version of Safari, improvements to AirPlay media streaming, and FaceTime video chat. Not bad, but the iOS 4.3 release on the 11th will only be for iPads, third- and fourth-generation iPod Touches, and the GSM version of the iPhone—meaning that owners of the iPhone for Verizon (which runs a CDMA network) will have to wait.

There will also be a new iPad version of Apple’s iMovie video-editing app, which is slated to arrive March 11 for $4.99.

Before unveiling the new iPad, Jobs confirmed recent rumors that book publisher Random House, the last of the major iBooks holdouts, would be offering more than 17,000 volumes through Apple’s e-book store.

Jobs also took a shot at Honeycomb, Google’s new Android-based tablet OS, by bragging that only 100 Honeycomb-ready apps are currently available for download, versus about 65,000 apps for the iPad—perhaps not the fairest comparison, since the first Honeycomb-enabled tablet only landed in stores about a week ago.

The first iPad, originally unveiled last January before landing in stores the following April, was initially greeted with skepticism.

Where’s the camera, reviewers (including me, I’ll admit) and wary consumers asked? Why no SD card slot—or USB, for that matter? How are you supposed to hold the thing, especially while tapping the on-screen keypad? Isn’t it just a jumbo-sized iPod Touch? And what are you supposed to do with the thing, anyway?

Valid questions all, but in the end, the numbers speak for themselves: 14.8 million sold in 2010 alone, a total that shocked even the most optimistic Apple watchers, with the iPad laying waste to the once-burgeoning netbook market and even taking a bite out of laptop sales. During Wednesday’s event, Jobs claimed that the iPad now has a 90-percent share of the tablet market.

Unsurprisingly, the massive success of the iPad has drawn a slew of competitors, with sleek new tablets from the likes of Dell, HP, LG, Motorola, and Samsung either on sale now or waiting in the wings.

Most of the hottest new tablets (such as the Motorola Xoom and the upcoming LG G-Slate) are based on Google’s tablet-oriented Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” OS, although we’ll also be seeing HP’s WebOS-based TouchPad and the BlackBerry PlayBook from RIM.

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