iPad 2 aims to keep core fans happy and pip new competitors
AS surprises go, it was up there with Fianna Fail losing the election. Apple last night unveiled an updated iPad in a move that had been widely predicted for months.
The big shock for media assembled in California and, via satellite link, London, was the sight of a frail Apple boss Steve Jobs taking the stage to launch the much-leaked sequel to last year's popular tablet computer.
But the stock market was relieved and the computer maker's shares finished up 1pc.
The 56-year-old creative force behind Apple's recent string of hits took long-term medical leave in January having only returned to the company last year after a liver transplant and a battle with pancreatic cancer.
"We've been working on this product for a while and I just didn't want to miss today," said Mr Jobs, before launching into a presentation of iPad 2 that, as usual, didn't shirk on hype or digs at competitors.
"We're here to talk about Apple's third post-PC blockbuster product," he said, referring to the iPod and iPhone as he took the wraps off the updated iPad. The original sold more than 15 million last year, generating more than $9.5bn (€6.9bn) in revenue for Apple.
Mr Jobs said: "2010 turned out to be the year of the iPad," owning more than 90pc of the market. "Is 2011 going to be the year of the copycats?"
Apple faces fierce new competition in the tablet computer sector, with dozens of rivals expected to launch in the coming months. The new machine, dubbed iPad 2, is the company's response to its perceived weaknesses in terms of power and missing features.
The revised machine, described by Mr Jobs as "an all-new design" but looking almost identical, is one-third thinner and, more importantly, noticeably lighter after it faced early criticism that it was too heavy to hold comfortably with one hand.
It also has a camera on the front and back to allow video-chats, something its growing band of rivals had been touting as a key advantage.
Mr Jobs also announced a powerful iPad version of Apple's GarageBand software that enables users to perform songs using virtual instruments. The €5 program is likely to prove highly popular with children and non-musicians for the ease of creating music.
"I'm blown away by this stuff -- anyone can make music now, it's unbelievable," said the Apple chief.
Some commentators noted that Apple had not increased the quality of the 9.7-inch screen, adding fuel to speculation that an iPad 3 is in the works for later in the year.
Although the thickness of the iPad has lessened, Apple did not do the same to the price, with the new models costing exactly the same as the ones they replace when they go on sale in Ireland on March 25, starting at €500.
Apple buys so much of the world's electrical components that competitors find it hard to match it on products. Many other tablets due in coming months are expected to cost €100 extra.
However, Apple immediately trimmed the cost of the original iPad by up to €120 to shift stocks before the updated tablet becomes available.