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Apple debuts iPad 2, gets favourable response from web world

Apple CEO Steve Jobs made a surprise appearance at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco on Wednesday as Apple debuted the iPad 2.

“We’ve been working on this product for awhile, and I didn’t want to miss it,” Jobs said before launching into the presentation.

The iPad 2 features a new, faster OS (iOS 4.3) with dual-core processor, two cameras (front and back), offered in two colours (black and white) and 1/3 thinner (making it thinner than the iPhone 4).  It also automatically syncs with Apple TV and includes an HDMI output.

It’s shipping in the United States on March 11 and will be available in at least 26 countries by March 25.

It will reportedly sell for US$499 for a 16GB wifi version and US$829 for the 64GB.  Jobs also introduced magnetic “smart covers”, which attach to the face of the device. The iPad “sleeps” while the cover is on, and wakes up when removed.

Jobs, looking thin but healthy enough, received a standing ovation from the few hundred journalists in the audience. He confidently walked the crowd (at great length) through highlights from Apple’s sales numbers and top applications from the App Store before showing the new product.

“Apple’s third post-PC blockbuster product” owns 90 percent of the tablet market, with Android devices hot on its heels.

Senior Vice President Scott Forstall demonstrated a FaceTime call, made possible by the dual cameras: “From day one, you can FaceTime from your iPad 2 to all the iPhone 4 customers out there,” he said.

Engineer Randy Ubillos showed iMovie, which takes advantage of the large screen for simple video and audio editing.

Xander Soren played with music tool GarageBand, which turns the iPad 2 into any number of instruments and includes 8-track recording and mixing.

“It blows my mind, this stuff,” Jobs said.  Response from the Twitterverse was largely positive, with professionals and amateurs alike buzzing about the potential unlocked by the dual cameras and associated apps.

University of Southern California professor Andrew Lih tweeted:  “Nice: now that iPad 2 announced with two cameras, syllabus for a class on “Agile Video Journalism” can proceed.”

But not everyone is a fan. Steve Rubel, Senior Vice President at Edelman Digital, tweeted:  “iPad 2 looks like really an incremental update. I bet a lot of people won’t upgrade.”

Though the upgrade may be incremental, it appears to address the shortcomings that had kept the iPad from being truly useful.  Expect the iPad 2 to open the door to the next level of tablet computing.