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Updated: Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) today unveiled its iPad 2 and as predicted, it’s thinner and faster. Also announced: iOS 4.3 with FaceTime (NYSE…

iPad 2 invitation (padded)

Updated: Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) today unveiled its iPad 2 and as predicted, it’s thinner and faster. Also announced: iOS 4.3 with FaceTime (NYSE: TWX), Photo Booth, new iMovie and more. Plus, take our poll: do you plan on buying the iPad 2?

Tablet competition will kick into high gear during 2011 with the debut of several new models running Android, WebOS, and RIM’s new QNX software on the Playbook. However, the granddaddy of the market is already moving on to its second act.

Apple didn’t even really try to hide what it plans to announce Wednesday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Performing Arts in San Francisco. Known for secrecy but also known for dropping clear hints in the run-up to an event in order to stoke anticipation, Apple’s invites to the media included the phrase “Come see what 2011 will be the year of,” with a Calendar app icon showing Wednesday’s date (which just happens to be the 2nd) covering an iPad.

So what do we expect from the next iPad? It doesn’t sound like Apple has any ground-breaking features in store, at least based on the shifting winds of the Apple rumor economy. But based on past strategies and the few solid nuggets that have trickled out, there are several likely scenarios.

Faster: Apple’s work on its own processor designs likely means that the iPad 2 is going to get a processor upgrade, a year after the first tablet hit stores. Dual-core processors are prominently featured on new Android tablets such as Motorola’s Xoom and planned for HP’s TouchPad, so it’s likely that Apple, also an ARM-architecture licensee, is ready to follow suit. The upshot of a dual-core processor is easy to understand: better graphics, better application performance, and better opportunities for developers and content creators to come up with ideas that weren’t possible given the performance envelope of the first iPad.

All-seeing: The first iPad did not come with a camera. That’s not the biggest blunder ever, considering tablets aren’t quite as mobile as phones, but it’s an oversight likely to be corrected with the iPad 2. Apple’s Facetime application on the iPhone 4 seems like a natural for a tablet, and expect to see at least a front facing camera on the iPad 2 along with the video chat software introduced last year. A rear-facing camera is less certain, but as with the faster processor, cameras give developers new ways to incorporate outside cues into their apps, such as new ways to think about augmented reality applications.

Thinner: There don’t seem to have been a lot of complaints about the size of the original iPad but advances in power consumption, memory packaging, and logistics often allow consumer electronics companies to reduce the size of their device, having grown more confident in their design and manufacturing processes to push the envelope. Apple’s no exception, and it has followed a similar strategy with its iPod, Mac, and iPhone product lines.

A report this week from Cult of Mac indicated that Apple could steal the iPad 2′s thunder with the announcement of an enhanced MobileMe service for storing music and videos on Apple’s servers, but the details of that will dictate whether or not everyone leaves San Francisco talking about the iPad or MobileMe.

One intriguing possibility suggested by several reports is that Apple has another, more capable iPad waiting in the wings for a September launch. That would pave the way for a holiday season tablet blitz, and could bring the Retina Display technology Apple introduced on the iPhone 4 to the iPad.

Apple’s unlikely, of course, to suggest any such possibility when rolling out the iPad 2, but it could be something for both developers and those considering a tablet to think about before pulling the trigger on the iPad 2. One clear enticement, however, could be price: with Motorola’s Xoom at $799 and the prices for RIM’s Playbook and HP’s TouchPad yet to be revealed, Apple could be poised to get very aggressive on the price of the iPad 2 in advance of a more capable (and therefore more expensive) model for the holiday season.

Check back with mocoNews tomorrow for updates from the event as well as everything you’ll need to know once the news is official.

  1. I’m so excited for this announcement! In the article below, The Daily Tech has contacted an Apple employee who has pretty much confirmed the announcement of the iPad 2!

    http://www.thedailytech.co/?p=189

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