At a special event in San Francisco, Apple unveiled the iPad 2, the follow up to the original iPad it released last April. The iPad 2 features an all new design along with new features including built-in cameras and a new gyroscope.

At the heart of the iPad 2 is a 1GHz dual-core Apple A5 processor, which should provide a boost over the 1GHz single-core Apple A4 in the first iPad. Apple says the A5 is two times faster than the previous processor, while graphics performance is nine times faster, which is welcome news for everything from games to video editing apps like the soon-to-be-released iPad-optimised version of iMovie.

"The graphics on this thing are wonderful," said Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who made a surprise appearance at the Wednesday event despite being on medical leave.

The A5 also has a similar low-power consumption rating as the A4. Like the original iPad, the new model promises 10 hours of battery life.

FaceTime

The iPad 2 features two built-in cameras, for use with FaceTime video chat and other apps. FaceTime can be used between two iPad 2s, between the iPad 2 and an iPhone or iPod touch, or between an iPad 2 and a Mac using FaceTime for Mac.

As with FaceTime on other iOS devices, you'll be able to use the front-facing camera to capture your own image. You can switch to the rear-facing camera during conversations to show chat participants what you're looking at without having to flip around your iPad.

Apple also announced a new Photo Booth app for the iPad. The app uses the front-facing camera to snap your image, which you can then alter with eight included effects. The Photo Booth app previews all effects on screen in real time.

The iPad 2's front camera is capable of recording VGA-resolution (640-by-480) video at 30 frames per second with audio. The front camera can also take still photos at 640-by-480. The back camera can record HD video at 720p at 30 frames per second with audio. When in still camera mode, the back camera has a 5X digital zoom.

The iPad 2 features a 9.7-inch LCD screen with a 1024-by-768-pixel resolution at 132 pixels per inch, like the original iPad.

Thinner and lighter

Overall, the iPad 2 is thinner and lighter than its predecessor, weighing 1.3 pounds and measuring 0.35 inches thick. The original iPad was 1.5 pounds (1.6 pounds for the 3G iPad) and 0.5 inches thick. The iPad 2 is actually thinner than the iPhone 4, which is 0.37 inches thick.

Other new features include a gyroscope, which has previously been included in the iPhone 4 and fourth generation iPod touch. Apple says the gyroscope feature works with the iPad 2's built-in accelerometer and compass to sense the direction the iPad is headed and how it's moving. That should affect gaming and mapping apps, giving both more of a 360-degree feel.

The iPad 2 supports 1080p video out using an Apple VGA Adapter or the newly announced Apple Digital AV Adapter.

Users will also be able to choose between a black or white iPad, which will both ship at the same time. That stands in stark contrast to the iPhone 4, which was also supposed to be available in both black and white options, however the white iPhone 4 has been continually delayed, with the model scheduled to finally arrive sometime this spring.

Apple offers six models of the iPad 2, with pricing identical to the original iPad's. There are three Wi-Fi only models with 16, 32 and 64GB of flash storage and three 3G-equipped models.

Apple says the iPad 2 will be available on March 11 through the online and retail Apple Stores. You can't place an order for the new tablet until March 11, according to Apple's online store.

The iPad 2 specifications call for iTunes 10.2, which Apple released this week. iPad 2 also requires Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later (or Windows 7, Windows Vista, or Windows XP Home or Professional with Service Pack 3).

Keystone of Apple strategy

In a little less than a year, the iPad has become a big part of Apple's business. Jobs said during the presentation that Apple sold nearly 15 million iPads during a nine-month period in 2010. According to Apple, the iPad has more than a 90 percent share of the tablet market.

"While others have been scrambling to copy the first generation iPad, we're launching iPad 2, which moves the bar far ahead of the competition and will likely cause them to go back to the drawing boards yet again," said Jobs.

At the event, Jobs acknowledge the role of the retail Apple Stores as a key to the success of the iPad. The stores' built-in ability to support the iPad was key to educating customers and to handle customer questions. "Without these stores, I don't think we would have been successful either," Jobs said.

"It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough," said Jobs at the end of the iPad 2 event. "That it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing."

Apple has a video demonstration of the iPad 2 available on its website. Apple posted the video of today's iPad 2 event.