Apple ups showbiz-friendly features in iPad

Features high-def, 4G connectivity; new Apple TV, iCloud enhancements revealed

As Hollywood continues to expand its options for how and where auds access its content, Apple is amping up the capabilities of the devices on which they consume that content, announcing Wednesday the forthcoming release of a 4G-compatible iPad, a high-def version of its Apple TV device and the expansion of its iCloud storage service to include movies.

Following much speculation regarding what innovations the next-generation iPad would feature, the company revealed that the new tablets will harness the next generation of 4G networks of Verizon, AT&T and other carriers worldwide and feature the Retina display that’s now part of the iPhone.

The display upgrade will boost the tablet’s resolution to 2048×1536, a four-fold increase over the current generation of iPad. The device will have more pixels on screen than most high-definition TVs. Color saturation will be 44% higher on the new device. The iPad’s camera is now upgraded to allow 1080p recording with image stabilization and temporal noise reduction.

The new 4G capability will increase the iPad’s download speeds for video and other features by as much as 10 times.

Combined, the enhancements further boost the device’s ability to deliver Hollywood’s films and TV shows with greater clarity and at faster speeds.

The new iPad (which is not being called iPad 3 or iPad HD, as had been rumored) hits store shelves on March 16, with no increase in price. (Devices will range from $499-$699 for WiFi only models and $629-$899 for WiFi/4G models). The company also plans to keep the iPad 2 on the market, cutting its retail price by $100 on all models.

The new Apple TV, which bumps up its resolution from 720p to 1080p, also goes on sale on March 16, and will also maintain its $99 price point.

The new Apple TV is a continuation of the company’s previous efforts in the television space — essentially a set-top box — but is seen as a stepping-stone for an eventual jump to a full TV offering.

The boost to 1080p was the most notable step along with the addition of movie purchases to iCloud, letting people easily watch their iTunes purchases on their TV. Other additions include PhotoStream, meaning pictures taken with an iPhone or iPad will appear on Apple TV , and the inclusion of the Genius recommendation engine.

At Wednesday’s unveiling in San Francisco, Tim Cook Apple CEO touted the iPad’s improved capabilities and inroads in the marketplace.

“It is amazing,” said Cook. “We’ve taken it to a whole new level, and we are redefining the category that Apple created with the original iPad.”

Apple has seen tremendous success with the iPad, selling 15.4 million of the devices during the 2011 year-end holiday season.

“We sold more iPads in the fourth quarter of last year than any PC manufacturer sold of their entire PC line worldwide,” said Cook. “We think this gives you an indication of the potential for this product.”

While Wednesday’s announcement lacked any jaw dropping surprises, Cook hinted that the company has robust plans for 2012.

“We have redefined once again the category that Apple created two years ago,” he said. “It’s what we love to do. It’s what we stand for. And across the year, you’re going to see a lot more of this kind of innovation.”