At a special press event today in San Francisco, Apple unveiled the next generation of the iPad, dubbed the iPad 2 .
Unlike past events, this reveal was not much of a surprise, since Apple hinted at it pretty clearly in the invitations sent out for the event. But what did surprise many was the fact that CEO Steve Jobs was the master of ceremonies despite his official status as being on medical leave, emerging to huge applause to The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun."
The new iPad is thinner, lighter, faster, and more powerful that the first-generation device. Other new features include front and rear cameras and a gyroscope, and it comes in both black and white colors.
Wireless options include both WiFi and the choice of either AT&T or Verizon cellular networks. The pricing remains the same, starting at $500 for the 16 GB model, and will ship starting March 11 in the U.S. and internationally March 25.
Along with the new device are several new accessories, software and apps, the most interesting to the music business being Garage Band for the iPad. The app takes a shot at the many existing apps designed to turn the iPad into a tool for music production by featuring a variety of touch-screen instruments (such as piano, drums, etc), various guitar amps and effects, and more than 250 pre-recorded loops available. It also allows for eight-track recording and is integrated with the Mac version of the software, so artists can start a project on the iPad and e-mail it to their computers. For the amateur, it features "smart instruments" that lets users simply pick a chord and "strum" virtual keys to mimic playing a guitar.
"This is something," Jobs told attendees. "I can't even tell you how many hours teens are going to spend with this, teaching themselves about music."
The $5 app comes out March 11 as well.
In addition to the new apps, there's a new version of iOS that brings iTunes Home Sharing to the iPad 2, improvements to AirPlay so users can stream apps or video to connected TVs, and optimized performance for Apple's Safari Internet browser. It also adds Apple's Facetime video chat feature to the new iPad, utilizing its front and rear-facing cameras to do video calling between the iPad 2 and any supported iPhone or Mac.
New accessories include an HDMI output that will let users connect the iPad 2 to their TVs with full resolution as a means of porting various iPad apps to the bigger screen. There's also a magnetic "smart cover" that protects the screen without completely encasing the device and also turns it on or off when open and closed.
Jobs noted that Apple has sold 15 million iPads from April to December of last year, generating $9.5 billion in revenue for Apple and capturing 90% of the tablet market share. There are now 65,000 iPad-specific apps available in the App Store, and Apple to date has paid more than $2 billion paid to app developers.
While competing tablets have come out now from Motorola (the Xoom), Samsung (Galaxy) and others, the new iPad raises the bar on competition this year, particularly given its low price. Besides just being a slick device, the apps behind it really drive the iPad ahead of its rivals. And the new accessories for integrating the tablet computer into the living room is something none of this year's iPad rivals have yet to match.
Jobs closed the press event with a prediction: that 2011 will be the year of the iPad 2. He just may be right. Again.