Steve Jobs introduces iPad 2; A5 chip, rear and front-facing cameras and more

Steve Jobs entered the stage to a standing ovation and went on to announce the iPad 2, a slimmer and faster version of the original set to hit stores on March 11

Apple's iPad 2 event yesterday got off to a surprising start when Apple CEO Steve Jobs walked on stage to a standing ovation. Jobs was in top form as he took the wraps off of Apple's next generation tablet, the iPad 2.

Before Jobs delved into iPad 2 details, he naturally had to take a few moments to take some jabs at Apple's tablet competitors, calling them copycats and touting the 65,000 native apps for the iPad compared to the 100 available for Google's Honeycomb OS.

But Silicon Valley drama aside, here's what the iPad 2 is all about.

First off, it's fast. If you thought the original iPad was fast, then you ain't seen nothing yet. Folks lucky enough to get a hands-on with the device were astonished at how snappy the iPad 2 was. Powering Apple's new tablet is Apple's new A5 dual-core processor which boasts faster graphics processing by a magnitude of 9 twice as fast CPU performance.

"We go all out on the graphics performance. Up to 9 times faster. Same low power as A4. This will be the first dual core tablet to ship in volume," Jobs explained.

As expected, the iPad 2 comes with 2 video cameras, one on the front and one on the back. iPad users will now be able to record video in 720p, take snapshots, and of course, FaceTime chat.

Design wise, the iPad 2 is svelte and noticeably thinner than the original, 33% to be exact. The original iPad had a thickness of 13.4mm while the iPad 2 checks in at 8.8mm. For some context, Jobs noted that the iPad 2 is even thinner than the iPhone 4 which has a thickness of 9.3mm. "Nothing approaches this," Jobs gleefully exclaimed."

Following in the footsteps of the iPhone (sans the iPhone 4), the iPad 2 will be available in two colors, black and white. Apparently whatever problems Apple had churning out the white iPhone 4 were fixed or didn't apply to the iPad.

As for real world usage, the iPad 2 features the same unbelievable battery life as the original. We're talking 10 hours of heavy usage and 1 month of standby time. For as much people like to compare the iPad to competing tablets like the Xoom, practical considerations like battery life often seem to be forgotten for some reason.

The iPad 2 will hit stores on March 11 with a larger International roll-out scheduled a few weeks later. Price wise, Apple kept things the same with the base wi-fi only 16GB model retailing for $499 while the upper echelon 64GB 3G model sells for $829. Jobs also took a moment to point out that 5 out of the 6 iPad 2 configurations Apple has for sale are less than $799, an obvious dig at the upcoming Motorola Xoom which starts at $799.

Some other features include the inclusion of PhotoBooth and HDMI-out functionality, thanks to a new adapter cable Apple will sell you for $39. But what really captured people's attention was the introduction of a new iPad cover from Apple called "Smart Covers." Smart Covers attach magnetically to the iPad 2 and also serves as a multipurpose iPad stand allowing people to type and watch movies with ease. It's a thoughtfully designed all-in-one solution that really has to be seen to grasp its ingenuity. And as luck would have it, here's a short video Apple played yesterday highlighting its brand new Smart Cover.

Lastly, for all you deal hounds out there, the arrival of the iPad 2 has prompted Apple to set up an iPad clearance section on their online store where you can find every model of the original iPad discounted by a cool $100.

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