The iPad2 is one-third of an inch thinner than its predecessor.

Apple is back with a second-generation tablet computer that squeezes more power into a thinner shell while keeping prices in check. Underscoring the tablet’s importance to Apple, CEO Steve Jobs briefly emerged from a medical leave on March 2 and made a surprising appearance to unveil the iPad 2 himself.

With the original iPad, Apple proved there is great demand for a tablet that’s less than a laptop and more than a smart phone, yet performs many of the same tasks.

Dozens of copycat touch-screen devices are in the works, but so far none has broken into the mainstream consciousness the way the iPad has.

“The competition is essentially going to be picking up the crumbs that Apple decides to leave behind,” said Ashok Kumar, an analyst with Rodman & Renshaw.

He said the number of software applications—or “apps”—available for the iPad gives Apple a huge advantage.

Sarah Rotman Epps, a Forrester Research analyst, said iPads should make up at least 20 million of the 24.1 million tablet computers she expects people in the U.S. to buy this year.

Except for Jobs’ appearance, little about the iPad 2 came as a surprise after months of speculation about features and upgrades. The tablet has two cameras built in for taking photos, recording video, and video chatting. The battery life will be the same as the original—about 10 hours of usage or a month on standby.

The iPad 2 is faster than its predecessor. Ross Rubin, an analyst for the market researchers NPD Group, said that should make the iPad better for creating music, video, and other content, rather than just consuming it.


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