Ailing Apple CEO Steve Jobs has appeared in person to unveil the company’s long-awaited iPad 2 – which features a faster processor and two video cameras.

Steve Jobs returned to work from medical leave to launch a new version of its iPad touch screen computer.

Jobs, who is fighting pancreatic cancer, joked to an audience in San Francisco: “I just didn’t want to miss today.”

The fact that he did the launch and not stand-in boss Tim Cook, underlines how important the next generation machine is to Apple’s reputation and its bottom line.

Jobs was more than usually combative in ridiculing potential iPad rivals and their versions of the mightily successful App Store.

No-one can yet come near the 350,000 apps on offer from Apple, but it is interesting to note that ‘post PC products’ – devices like iPods, iPhones and now iPads to you and me – now provide a majority of the San Francisco-based company’s revenues.

Nevertheless, the tablet computer now has many forms and many of them offer a user experience at least comparable to the iPad.

More than this, many if not most, have one if not two cameras, they can play everything you can find on all websites, and you can connect other software you already own to the machine through a USB port.

Of these, just the cameras make it on board the iPad2.

This remains a device very much within the walled orchard. But a new faster, dual core chip and graphics said to be nine times faster are significant improvements on version one.

There is a new OS to go with the iPad and tablet and touch friendly versions of Mac software like Photo Booth, Facetime video calling and Garage Band music making will be available.

But the iPad 2’s weight is similar to the older model, weighing 590g (1.3lb) compared with the 680g (1.5lb) of the original.

Mr Jobs said the iPad 2 was an all-new design rather than just being a tweaked version of the iPad.

It will also be available in both black and white from the launch date.

The device is due to go on sale in the US on March 11, then on March 25 in other countries including the UK.

The tablet is expected to be priced similarly to the original device, with the most expensive model offering 64GB and Wi-Fi plus 3G.

Research analyst Daniel Ernst said of the iPad 2: “Like the iPhone 4 versus iPhone 3, this is more evolution than revolution, but there is a lot to love.”

“The dual core CPU will mean a lot to those that multi-task and of course the video cameras were what people were asking for.

“Bottom line, the competition is so far behind.”

Mr Jobs, who had been on indefinite medical leave, unveiled the device on stage to a standing ovation.

Appearing gaunt and thin in his trademark black turtleneck and jeans, he said the new product would be much faster than the first-generation iPad released last year.

He announced in January he would take a third leave of absence to focus on his health.

In the last decade, the 56-year-old has survived a rare but curable form of pancreatic cancer and undergone a liver transplant.

For anyone yet to buy a tablet device this machine is an attractive proposition and one that certainly could maintain Apple’s established lead… for the time being.

But other manufacturers are catching up fast and are already offering or hinting at devices that can already match iPad2. All of which makes the next big web rumour, that iPad 3 could be here before Christmas, entirely plausible.

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