|The iPad 2 was unveiled Wednesday.|
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - Apple ( AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs took the stage at an event in San Francisco Wednesday to a cheering crowd to unveil the newest version of its popular iPad tablet. "I didn't want to miss today," said Jobs, who took a medical leave from Apple in January for health reasons.
The second generation of the iPad, dubbed the iPad 2, is a slimmer, lighter and faster version of the previous device, Jobs said. The new tablet is thinner than the iPhone 4, and runs on a dual core A5 processor that is up to two times as fast than the original iPad. The device also features both rear-facing and front-facing cameras for FaceTime, as well as a 10-hour battery life. It will come in both white and black, and will run on Verizon's ( VZ) and AT&T's ( T) 3G networks. The iPad 2 will be powered by iOS 4.3, the latest version of Apple's operating system, and will be available on March 11 in the U.S. starting at $499 for the 16GB WiFi-only version. It will begin shipping in more than 25 additional countries on March 25. The Cupertino, Calif.-based electronics maker has sold around 15 million iPads since launching last April, generating over $9.5 billion in 2010. Analysts predict sales of the iPad 2 could top 30 million in 2011. Overall tablet sales are predicted to explode this year, with Gartner forecasting 54.8 million devices could be purchased, up from 19.5 million in 2010. Apple is launching the iPad 2 as a host of other manufacturers are rolling out similar devices. Motorola ( MMI) unveiled its Google ( GOOG) Android-powered Xoom Tablet last week, and Research in Motion ( RIMM) has also announced plans for its PlayBook device sometime this year. Shares of Apple rose 0.7% in afternoon trading Wednesday to $351.83. --Written by Olivia Oran in New York. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/Ozoran. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.