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“We’ve been working on this product for a while, and I just didn’t want to miss today.”

STEVE JOBS UPSTAGES iPAD 2 AT APPLE PRESENTATION

Apple Chief’s Unexpected Return to Spotlight Sends Stock Soaring
The big news coming out of Apple’s dog-and-pony show Wednesday in San Francisco wasn’t the iPad 2, but the guy who unveiled it. As Steve Jobs walked onstage, the gathered media emitted what amounted to a collective gasp before launching a standing ovation.

Like the device he was introducing, the Apple chief, who’s been on leave of absence since mid-January, was noticeably thinner and lighter than in the past. All he said in explanation of his surprise appearance was, “We’ve been working on this product for a while, and I just didn’t want to miss today.”

“It is clear that he is still in charge,” Creative Strategies analyst Tim Bajarin told the N.Y. Times. “His presence underscores how important he feels the iPad is to Apple’s future.”

Jobs’s unexpected presence lifted the mood of Apple’s investors: as soon as the news spread, Apple’s shares jumped more than $3, or nearly 1%.

The iPad 2 is built around a new Apple-designed chip called A5, which Jobs said would make graphics performance nine times as fast. At 8 millimeters thick, it’s one-third thinner than the original and even slightly thinner than the iPhone 4. The new iPad weighs in at 1.3 pounds, a fifth of a pound lighter than its predecessor, while retaining the previous model’s 10-hour battery life.

Though the improvements are incremental rather than dramatic, the iPad 2 “feels totally different,” Jobs enthused. The most prominent new features are front and rear cameras, enabling video chats. Additionally, the new tablet comes in white as well as black.

“The technology is becoming more and more invisible,” said Ge Wang, the co-founder and chief technology officer of Smule, a company that makes virtual instruments for the iPad and the iPhone. “Nothing else comes close.”

It will hit U.S. retail on March 11, two weeks ahead of the rest of the world, with prices starting at $499 and topping off at $829 for the loaded model.

Apple’s rivals—or “copycats,” as Jobs referred to them in his presentation—now include SamsungDell, MotorolaR.I.M. and Hewlett-Packard, but none has managed to mount a serious challenge, in part because they’ve had difficulty matching the iPad’s pricing, the Times points out. Motorola’s Xoom, for instance, costs $800. The Samsung Galaxy Tab goes for about $500, but at seven inches, it’s much smaller than the iPad, which is nearly 10 inches.

In January, Apple said it had sold nearly 15 million iPads since introducing the tablet in early 2010, generating about $9.5 billion, or about 85% of the market. The company will sell an estimated 34 million iPads in 2011, or more than triple the 10 million tablets expected to be sold by its rivals, eMarketer predicted.

“We think 2011 is clearly going to be the year of iPad 2,” said Jobs.
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