Steve Jobs unveils Apple's iPad 2

Apple's chief executive has announced the next-generation device, which includes two cameras and dual-core processors

Apple has unveiled the iPad 2, which brings its tablet range more in line with the specifications of rivals such as HP's TouchPad, RIM's PlayBook and a host of devices running Android.

Apple iPad 2

The Apple iPad 2 was unveiled in San Francisco by the company's chief executive Steve Jobs. Photo credit: James Martin/CNET News

The device was announced on Wednesday, and will go on sale in the UK on 25 March. Steve Jobs made a surprise appearance at the San Francisco launch event to show it off, despite being on indefinite sick leave. He also announced iOS 4.3, which will be rolled out as a free software update on Friday.

The updated iPad is thinner and lighter than the original, at just 8.8mm in thickness and 600g in weight — the original was 13.4mm thick and weighed 680g. This makes it thinner and lighter than rival devices. It also introduces a front-facing camera and a dual-core processor, both of which are featured in most high-end tablets announced in 2011.

Like most of its rivals, the iPad 2 includes high-definition video-recording capabilities, using the rear camera. However, its front-facing camera is only VGA quality — Motorola's Xoom 'Gingerbread' Android tablet offers 2 megapixels, the TouchPad 1.3 megapixels and the PlayBook 3 megapixels.

The processor in the iPad 2 is Apple's A5, the dual-core successor to the single-core A4 that powered the original iPad and the iPhone 4. It retains the 1GHz clock speed of its predecessor. In addition, the new device has the same 9.7-inch display as the first iPad. A three-axis gyroscope has been added to complement the accelerometer in gaming and other applications.

Pricing has, so far, only been announced for the US. Although the prices are not directly translatable to pounds sterling, they range from $499 for a 16GB Wi-Fi-only model to $829 for a 64GB version with both Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity.

iOS 4.3

Apple used the same event to announce iOS 4.3, the latest version of the operating system that powers the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. The biggest addition is that of the ability to turn an iPhone 4 into a personal Wi-Fi hotspot — a feature that has been available for Android devices since the middle of 2010.

The new iOS features a version of the Safari browser that Apple said is much faster than its predecessors. The company has built its Nitro JavaScript engine into the WebKit rendering engine, and it says this more than doubles JavaScript execution performance using just-in-time (JIT) compilation.

The other new features in iOS 4.3 mostly involve media sharing. A feature called iTunes Home Sharing makes it possible to stream music and video from Mac computers to iOS devices, and enhancements to the media-streaming technology AirPlay allow the streaming of content from apps and websites to second-generation Apple TV devices.

The update will only be available to users of the iPad, iPad 2, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 (GSM model), and third- and fourth-generation iPod Touches. People with older models will remain on earlier versions of the OS.

Jobs's appearance at the launch came as a surprise as he has been on indefinite sick leave since mid-January. Jobs, a survivor of pancreatic cancer, also took sick leave in 2004 and 2009. On both occasions, as now, chief operating officer Tim Cook took charge in his absence.

However, last time a major Apple launch took place during one of those absences, Cook rather than Jobs made the presentation. Despite urging from analysts, in late February Apple's investors decided not to reveal plans for Jobs's successor, who will have to take over from a man more closely identified with his company's brand than most.

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