Steve Jobs Appears on Stage to Unveil iPad 2 [Video]

Just as we had predicted it, Apple CEO Steve Jobs briefly emerged from a medical leave yesterday and made a surprising appearance to unveil the iPad 2, an upgraded tablet computer that could help the company fend off a slew of rivals in the burgeoning market. This thinner and lighter version of Apple’s popular tablet goes on sale from March 11 in the US.

Welcomed with a standing ovation, the 56-year-old Apple Chief Executive, who has been on medical leave since January, made his surprise appearance at a company event in San Francisco to launch iPad 2, himself.

Wearing his signature black turtleneck and blue jeans, Jobs began the over 70-minute event by saying, “We’ve been working on this product (iPad 2) for a while and I just didn’t want to miss the day,” Jobs said shortly after receiving a standing ovation Wednesday.

Jobs, who took the highly publicized leave in mid-January, has battled pancreatic cancer. He received a liver transplant in 2009. After his appearance on stage, Apple shares rose 2% in midday trading, before leveling off later.

The new iPad 2, available in black and white, costs the same as the first version – USD 499 to USD 829. It will ship in the US on March 11 and in 26 other countries, including Mexico, New Zealand and Spain, on March 25. It comes with front and rear cameras, a feature which was missing in the first model. It has a new Apple-designed chip that performs standard calculations twice as fast as its predecessor and offers a nine-fold boost in graphics performance.

The iPad 2 is also thinner — 8.8 millimeters, or about a third of an inch, instead of the current 13.4 millimeters. It weighs just a bit less — 1.3 pounds, compared with the original 1.5 pounds. With a $39 accessory, people can connect the tablet to televisions, so they can watch high-definition videos on the bigger screen.

Apple has a more than 90% market share and “our competitors are just flummoxed,” Mr. Jobs said, adding that if 2010 was the “year of the iPad,” he might call 2011 “the year of the copycats.

Mr. Jobs stressed that the new iPad was part of a growing new “post-PC” category of devices, which also includes its iPhone. The company faced a slew of skeptics when it first introduced the iPad a year ago, yet it managed to sell 14.8 million of the devices globally as of the end of 2010, generating $9.5 billion in revenue.

Interestingly, Apple has chopped $100 off the price of every model of the original iPad. Those models are clearly marked as “clearance” items on the company’s website, suggesting that when that inventory sells out, no additional units will be available. The original iPad remains an excellent machine, only a step or two behind the capability of the iPad 2.

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