Steve Jobs' medical leave didn't last long.
Apple's iconic CEO, who announced in January that he would be taking a six-month break from the company for health reasons, returned to the stage Wednesday to introduce Apple's iPad 2, the second generation of its popular tablet, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.
The iPad 2's form factor is significantly different than the original iPad's. First, it's 33 percent thinner than the original, measuring just 88-mm-wide compared to 134 mm. The iPad 2 is also lighter, weighing in at 1.3 pounds compared to the iPad's 1.5 pounds.
As for new features, the iPad 2 will come with a front-facing and rear-facing video camera, an HDMI output for full 1080p quality video, and iOS 4.3, which will offer enhancements to applications such as Safari, GarageBand, iTunes and others.
But the biggest change for the iPad 2 is its processor. The device will come with the A5 ARM-based dual core processor, which Jobs said will offer twice the CPU speed and nine times fast graphics performance of the original iPad's A4 processor. And, Jobs said, the A5 will have the same lower power consumption as the A4 chip, thus enabling the iPad 2 to have the same 10-hour battery life as the original iPad.
There are still some features that are missing; the iPad 2 will not come with a USB port or SD card slot, and there was no official word from Apple on the device's memory capacity. So the iPad 2 will be able to feed HD video "out" to other devices but still won't allow connections "in," and that includes any hardwire network connections.
Still, Apple had a few tricks up its sleeve for the iPad 2, including a new foldable cover that attaches to the tablet via built-in magnets and can be folded into a stand for the iPad 2; the cover will be available in either leather ($69) or polycarbonate ($39). Apple will also offer and digital AV adapter that connects to the iPad 2's HDMI port and allows users to stream full 1080P video to other devices.
The iPad 2 will be available March 11 in the U.S. and will be offered in two colors: black and white. The device will retain the same pricing scale as the original iPad, starting at $499 for the 16 GB Wi-Fi-only model. Jobs also said the iPad 2 will be available with 3G wireless service from AT&T and Verzion at launch.
The iPad, which Apple terms as it "third post-PC blockbuster" behind the iPod and iPhone, has seen remarkable success since it launched last Spring. Apple said it sold nearly 15 million iPads in 2010 (from April to December), more than every other tablet PC ever sold, generating $9.5 billion in revenue and obtaining more than 90 percent of the total tablet market share. In addition, there are more than 65,000 iPad apps available in the App Store.
"We've never had a product get off to that fast of a start," Jobs told the audience.
During his presentation, Jobs declared that competitors such are "flummoxed" and that the iPad is far ahead of other tablets. At one point during the presentation, Jobs showed a slide titled "2011: The Year of the Copycats?" with the logos of Samsung, HP, Motorola, BlackBerry and Android.
"We think 2011 is the year of the iPad 2," Jobs said.
Jobs, who received a standing ovation from the audience at the start of the event, left the stage after the presentation and did not take questions during the question and answer session with media members. Apple has not said whether or not Jobs has returned to his full-time duties as CEO.