Eleven months ago, Apple released the first iPad, a touchscreen handheld computer that redefined tablets, disrupting the laptop/desktop market just as the iPod did to music players and the iPhone did to smartphones.

On Friday, 15 million iPads later, Apple released its successor, the iPad 2. Many people, myself included, predicted long lines and sellouts, just like last year. So did Apple deliver?

In a word, yes. More accurately: hell yes.

Apple's iPad 2

Lines formed across the US, even though this year's iPad 2 launch offered many more places to buy the new tablet than last year. In addition to Apple's retail stores, Best Buy, Walmart, Target, AT&T, Verizon, Sam's Club and select Apple resellers had a limited number of iPad 2s available on Friday.

At a Best Buy in downtown Orlando, where I got mine, well over 100 people were waiting in line a half hour before the iPad 2 went on sale at 5 pm. Staffers kept us informed of inventory levels: the 16GB models went first, followed by the 32GB versions until only 64GB 3G models were left (that's the exact one I wanted, in black). I got the last one available after the guy in front of me decided he really wanted another model and decided to try another store nearby. He handed me the iPad 2 that became mine.

Thank you, sir.

Look and feel

The iPad 2 is 7.3 inches wide by 9.5 inches long by .34 inches thick, thinner and lighter than the first generation version. The 9.7-in. 1024-by-768-pixel screen is the same, framed by a black or white border. The aluminum at the edge of the screen flows into the flat back, but it's hard to describe the graceful physical design. There's no side lip like the previous iPad had and the result is a beautifully sleek unibody design.

It's hard to believe devices will become thinner than this. Of course, they will, but for now: wow. The thinner iPad it easier to hold, and the aluminum body in concert with the oil-resistant oleophobic coated glass gives it a sturdy, luxurious feel.

The iPad 2 is noticeably lighter. While officially it's just a few ounces (the old one weighed 1.5 pounds, this one, 1.3 pounds) the difference is enough that the iPad 2 feels at first as if you could use it extensively without propping it in your lap. Don't be fooled. If you don't prop it up, your wrist will still get tired of holding it. Still, any weight saving is a step in the right direction, especially since the build quality remains high.

Given the three storage options, I'm often asked whether the move from 16GB to 32GB or even 64GB is worth the cost. That depends on several factors, including the size of your iTunes library and whether the iPad will be a home or travel device.

If the iPad will mainly stay home, iTunes Home Sharing should offset the need for more storage as you can access the iTunes libraries of computers on your local network and play their content on the device wirelessly. This includes movies, TV shows, podcasts, music and music videos, which you access from either the built-in iPod or Video applications.

In general, though, I've always felt it's better to have too much storage than too little. I'd have bought a 256GB model if I could. Then again, my iTunes library is nearly 1TB in size.

Apple's iPad 2