Apple's Steve Jobs Takes Stage to Unveil iPad 2

More than a year after igniting the tablet computing craze, Apple's Steve Jobs surprised the world by taking to the stage to unveil the second version of its blockbuster iPad on Wednesday.

Jobs traditionally hosts such events, but due to health concerns, he was widely anticipated to skip the event. Sorry, Charlie. Nothing doing: As he's done a hundred times before, Jobs took to the stage, wearing his signature black turtleneck and jeans of course, to unveil the next generation of his company's groundbreaking tablet.

To a standing ovation, Jobs -- smiling and energetic though looking frail -- strode onstage, saying simply "I didn't want to miss this."

The company currently makes most of its revenues from its non-PC products, Jobs said -- meaning the iPhone, iPod, and now the iPad -- and he pointed out that Apple has sold 15 million iPads in 2010.

"More than every tablet PC ever sold," Jobs trumpeted. What will 2011 hold? Probably more tablets, speculated Jobs, calling the year ahead "the year of the copycats." Apple plans to stay one step ahead.

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With that, he unveiled the Apple iPad 2.

"Wicked fast" processor? Check. The iPad 2 sports graphics that are 9 times faster, Jobs said, and a new dual-core A5 processor that's twice as fast as the first-generation model.

Lighter and thinner? Check. The new tablet is 1.3 pounds, compared with the 1.5-pound first version. And the case is just 8.8 millimeters thick, as compared with the first-generation model's 13.5 millimeters -- that's 33% thinner, Jobs said.

Over 10 hours of battery life? Check. Despite the new power and new features, the iPad 2 maintains the lengthy battery life current users have been wowed by.

Front and rear facing camera? Check, meaning users can now make FaceTime video calls to one another, or use the popular Skype software, which already touts support for the iPad.

Read more on FoxBusiness: Incremental, not Monumental Changes in iPad 2

As with any good Apple event, the iPad 2 launch came with a surprise: In this case, support for both AT&T and Verizon -- and a surprising ship date of March 11 (March 25th for international customers). Customers had to wait nearly two months between the announcement of the first-gen iPad and when Apple shipped its first products.

The iPad 2 comes in an additional color, too, though that's less surprising -- white, of course, to match the iPod lineup. It boasts the same price tag as the first-generation model: The new iPad 2 will start at $499 and run as high as $829 for the Wi-Fi-enabled, 3G model with 64GB of memory.

Apple also introduced a new accessory for the iPad as well, letting 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.

Noting the importance of integrating software with hardware, Jobs debuted a new iteration of the operating system that powers the iFamily: iOS 4.3, which adds a handful of new features, such as a faster mobile web browser and iTunes home sharing. It also turns the iPad into a personal hotspot, connecting all nearby Apple gizmos to the web.

He also debuted a few new applications for the iPad, including iMovie and GarageBand, at $4.99 each.

Try to remember where we were at this time last year. Apple announced the new iPad and immediately people began writing its eulogy. What’s with that name, iPad, people asked? Who would want a device that’s bigger than a smartphone but smaller than a laptop?

One year later, had Apple sold 15 million units, the netbook market was more or less officially dead, and every other tech company was scrambling to play catch up.

The announcement of iPad 2 comes at a perfect time for Apple which is facing new competition in the tablet space, particularly from devices based on Google's Android software, which has exploded in popularity.

Once again Apple has left those companies struggling to play catch up. Most of the competition is still trying to go toe to toe with last year’s iPad, after all.

"We think 2011 is clearly the year of iPad 2," Jobs said. We may have to agree.