Steve Jobs reveals popular gadget's redesign

Steve Jobs is as big on churning out high-profile sequels as Hollywood studio execs are. And he’s similarly looking to top himself with each one.

His latest project, the iPad 2, unveiled by Jobs in San Francisco on Wednesday, should take the retail biz by storm when it becomes available March 11, just as the first tablet nearly single-handedly created a new sector of the computer market a year ago.

Staying trendy is what Apple needs to remain a powerful distribution platform for studios, networks, record labels and publishers for their movies, TV shows, music, games and books.

New device features a slimmer design that is lighter than the previous iPad, with front- and rear-facing cameras and a more powerfulchip that doubles its processing and increases graphics speeds nine-fold.

The price stays the same, at a range of $499 to $829, with the same 10-hour battery pack.

The new tablet comes with enough bells and whistles and an attractive enough pricetag to give Apple the ammo it needs to fend off rivals like Motorola’s Xoom and a slew of others arriving in the coming months, including Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, LG’s Slate, the Blackberry Playbook, Dell’s Streak and HP’s TouchPad.

Behind the scenes, the device has already wound up as a helpful filmmaking tool, used to pitch projects, playback pre-vis animation and other sequences, deliver script updates to crew members, help actors rehearse their lines, and even replace the traditional $1,350 time slates built by Deneke with a $20 Movie Slate clapboard app.

That shouldn’t change with the new tablet, with the iPad 2 integrating two built-in cameras for video conferencing through Apple’s Face Time program, found in the new iPhones.

An HDMI connector will link the iPad 2 directly to flatscreens for high-quality 1080p video playback.

And new versions of Apple’s popular iMovie video editing software and Garage Band music recording software will be available as apps. (Adding media still requires connecting to a computer and syncing through iTunes.)

During the presser, Jobs said the iPad has generated over $9.5 billion in revenue for Apple since its launch with most of that coming from the sale of apps. The iPad now has 65,000 apps available for download. Developers have been paid $2 billion for their app sales, with Apple collecting 30% of earnings.

After its launch last April, the first iPad has sold more than 15 million units, with 1 million sold in the first month.

To put that in perspective, it took the iPad 28 days to hit the 1 million mark, whereas it took the iPhone 74 days to reach that milestone.

ABC has touted itself as being the first network to have its video player stream shows on the device. Ten days after launch, ABC’s app was downloaded 205,000 times, putting the network on half of the 450,000 devices that Apple sold. At the same time, 650,000 of ABC’s shows had been watched, helping it give advertisers more impressions for their marketing messages.

Since then, numbers have gone up, with ABC.com claiming the top spot among online video broadcasters in January at 4.8 million unique viewers for the month, up 78% over December.

Netflix has also talked up the tablet as a valuable platform to promote its move from a DVD-by-mail rental firm to digital streaming service for movies and TV shows. Netflix is accessed more frequently via Apple TV than on the iPad however, the company said.

HBO, DirecTV, Comcast and other broadcasters have embraced the iPad and its nearly 10-inch screen as a viable programming platform.

And among gamemakers, Electronic Arts is high on the iPad’s potential to turn into a major moneymaker for mobile titles the way it’s helped turn “Angry Birds” into a franchise.

Jobs surprised some by presiding over the presentation because he has been on medical leave from Apple since January.

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