Apple Introduces iPad 2 as Steve Jobs Returns

Apple CEO Steve Jobs shocked the world with a largely unexpected appearance at Apple’s media event today in San Francisco. “We’ve been working on this product for a while, and I didn’t want to miss today,” Jobs said.

The product in question is the second generation iPad, which is aptly dubbed the “iPad 2.”

As widely expected, the iPad 2 delivers several key refreshed features, like a front-facing camera for live FaceTime video chats and a rear camera for video.

The tablet itself, however, is substantially thinner and lighter than its predecessor.

“It is an all new design,” Jobs said. “And it’s dramatically faster,” referencing the new A5 chip, dual processor which will make the iPad 2 upwards of two-times faster on CPU performance and nine-times faster on graphics. “This will be the 1st dual core tablet to ship in volume.”

“Having built in all this stuff, one of the striking things about the iPad 2 is that’s dramatically thinner. 33% thinner,” Jobs added. In terms of the tablet’s weight, the iPad 2 is down to 1.3 pounds from 1.5 pounds.

The iPad 2 includes a built-in gyroscope and even HDMI mirrored video output at 1080p Full HD (the cable, sold separately, is priced at $39). Jobs says the updated tablet will deliver the same 10-hour battery life – and a month of standby.

The iPad 2 will be available in both black and white with models that work with either AT&T or Verizon.

So how much with the new and improved iPad set you back? Impressively, the iPad 2 will be available for as low as $499, the same price at which the first generation iPad was introduced. There will be 16GB, 32GB and 64GB models (all with 3G options). 3G will be $130 additional on each model. All told, the new devices are being introduced at the same price points of the first generation models.

The iPad 2 will begin shipping March 11th to the US, and internationally on March 25th.