Apple caught the technology world off guard when it introduced the iPad more than a year ago. Competitors have spent much of that time trying to catch up, and worthy tablet computers have started to surface.
Apple is hoping to maintain its lead on Wednesday. Rumors are swirling about what new features will get packaged into the iPad 2 and about the complementary services that could launch here. CNN is in San Francisco at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts live blogging the announcements.
[9:55 a.m. PT] Songs from The Beatles (an iTunes exclusive) are blaring on the stereos, and Apple executives are schmoozing at the front. No sign of Steve Jobs, the founder and CEO who is currently on medical leave.
[10:03 a.m. PT] "Sun, sun, sun, here we come." Music down; lights down; Apple execs coming up. CEO Steve Jobs takes the stage to a standing ovation.
[10:04 a.m. PT] Jobs: "We've been working on this product for a long time, and I just didn't want to miss the day."
[10:05 a.m. PT] Random House partners with Apple for iBooks, adding the sixth and final big book publisher to the e-book store.
[10:07 a.m. PT] Jobs on the iPad: "People laughed at us for using the word magical. But you know what? It's turned out to be magical."
Jobs on the "unbelievable price" bit of the marketing slogan: "Ask our competitors."
[10:10 a.m. PT] Demonstrating some of the popular iPad apps. (There are 65,000 in total, Apple says.) Hey, there's CNN's!
[10:13 a.m. PT] Showing a new iPad marketing video. Apple keeps using this "post-PC" term. Hey, Apple, aren't computers still your biggest source of revenue?
[10:15 a.m. PT] For anyone concerned about Jobs' health based on those tabloid reports, he looks fine and happy.
[10:18 a.m. PT] "Is 2011 going to be the year of the copycats? Well, I think if we did nothing, maybe a little bit. ... Most of the tablets aren't catching up with the first iPad."
New iPad is indeed called iPad 2, with an "all new design."
[10:20 a.m. PT] Apple says iPad 2 is faster: perhaps most important, very fast in terms of graphics.
[10:22 a.m. PT] iPad 2 has a camera on the front and another on the back. It also has a gyroscope, which is good for gaming. (There's also a gyroscope in the iPhone 4.)
iPad 2 is one-third thinner, and has a tapered look, which looks more like the MacBook Air. It's thinner than the iPhone 4. Yikes. It weighs 1.3 pounds.
[10:24 a.m. PT] iPad 2 will have versions for Verizon Wireless and AT&T. It comes in black and white. We're still waiting on a white iPhone 4. A nod to that, Jobs says: "We'll be shipping white from Day One."
[10:25 a.m. PT] iPad 2 will have the same pricing structure as the original. In other words, it starts at $499. It will be available in stores on March 11 in the U.S. Two weeks later, Apple will add at least 26 more countries. "This thing is going to be everywhere in the month of March," Jobs says.
[10:27 a.m. PT] Jobs now talking about some iPad accessories. First, a $39 HDMI cable that lets you project whatever is on the iPad's screen onto a TV. "Teachers want to hook iPads up to their flatscreens in the classrooms," Jobs says. "And you can even charge the iPad while you're using it."
[10:30 a.m. PT] Jobs is dissing on Apple's own case. Can't argue with that; it looks like a cheap Batman accessory. Apple is introducing Smart Covers, a bendable case that comes in several colors.
This is cool: iPad automatically wakes from sleep when you peel back the cover. The Smart Covers use magnets that automatically align the case so it covers the screen. A microfiber cover on the screen-facing side "cleans it" when it's on. I never thought I'd be impressed by a case. Must be the Jobs¬†distortion¬†field.
[10:31 a.m. PT] The commercial for this case is really clever. Jobs says: "It kind of reminds me of a Pixar short or something."
Smart Cases cost $39 for¬†polyurethane, $69 for leather.
[10:33 a.m. PT] Mobile exec Scott Forstall takes the stage to talk about the new iOS 4.3 software. The browser is much faster.
[10:35 a.m. PT] This iOS 4.3 is not a very exciting update - must be why Apple is calling it 4.3 instead of 5.0. In addition to Safari changes, there will be improvements to iTunes media sharing and AirPlay features, which are both nice for Apple TV owners.
[10:38 a.m. PT] Uber geeks will be happy to know that they can change whether the switch on the side will mute or change¬†orientation. The update also adds the Mobile Hotspot feature, for sharing your wireless internet to a few other gadgets.
Non-geeks will have fun playing with the Photo Booth app. It's similar to the one for the Mac.
[10:41 a.m. PT] Of course, Apple is adding FaceTime to take advantage of the iPad 2's cameras. The app lets you video chat with Mac users or owners of the new iPhone or iPod Touch.
[10:44 a.m. PT] Apple is introducing two new mobile apps.
First, iMovie for iPad. "This is not a toy," Jobs says. "You can really edit movies on this thing." Was the iPhone¬†version¬†from last year a toy?
[10:48 a.m. PT] Spotted during the demo: the iMovie app has CNN iReport built in!
[10:53 a.m. PT] iMovie will cost $5, and it'll come to the App Store on March 11 - same day as iOS 4.3.
Second app: GarageBand, which includes musical instrument simulators. "They turn the iPad itself into a musical instrument that you can play wherever you go," says¬†Xander Soren, Apple's director of music marketing. iPad's accelerometer sensor simulates how hard you hit a piano key.
There are tons of music apps already out there, but this one looks pretty well thought out.
[10:56 a.m. PT] Apple has posted the iPad 2 specifications on its website. In case it wasn't clear before, the new iPad has the same sort of screen as the previous version. In other words, no high-resolution Retina Display.
[10:59 a.m. PT] Back to GarageBand, Apple is reinventing instruments - guitars, keyboards, bass, drums - for touchscreens. Calling them "Smart" instruments. Is nothing sacred?
"They're kind of like musical training wheels - makes it so you can't play a bad note," Soren says.
[11:04 a.m. PT] GarageBand mobile app is the same deal: $5 on March 11.
[11:12 a.m. PT] "It's in Apple's DNA that technology isn't enough," Jobs says. "Nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices. And a lot of folks in this tablet market are rushing in, and they're looking at this as the next PC."
"These are post-PC devices, that need to be even easier to use than the PC," he adds. "They need to be even more intuitive than a PC."
[11:14 a.m. PT] "As always, I'd also like to thank everyone's families because they support us and let us do what we love to do," Jobs says, getting a bit emotional. He leaves the stage smiling, and grabs a bottle of water.