Apple today unveiled the next-generation iPad, which features a higher-resolution display, a new processor with improved graphics performance, and support for faster LTE mobile data networks.
Much of what Apple executives unveiled had been heavily speculated on by bloggers and media outlets in the weeks leading up to today's launch event in San Francisco.
"But it's not Apple's job to surprise me, it's Apple's job to satisfy me," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research.
And it did so, Gottheil continued.
"They've done a pretty good job here," he said. "It's a nice package, they're maintained the price, they're updating the software. It's sweet, and I'm sure they'll convince more people to go with a tablet."
That was the line that Apple CEO Tim Cook used when he called the company's tablet, "The poster child for the post-PC world" and again hammered home the theme that tablets are the future of computing, and that the iPad continues to lead all rivals.
"Everyone's been wondering who will come out with a tablet that is better than the iPad 2," said Cook. "Well, stop wondering. We are. We are redefining the category."
This was the first iPad introduction without former CEO Steve Jobs, who died last October.
The new iPad -- Apple called it exactly that, foregoing the "iPad 3" and "iPad HD" names pundits had put forward -- boasts a much sharper screen, relies on an Apple-designed A5X processor that offers twice the graphics punch, and supports the LTE networks for faster Internet connection speeds, said Philip Schiller, Apple's head of marketing, who held the stage through much of the introduction.
But it's neither cheaper or more expensive: Apple has retained the prices of 2011's iPad 2. The Wi-Fi versions start at $499 for a 16GB model and climb to $699 for a 64GB configuration, while the 3G/4G-capable iPads are priced from $629 to $829. The 3G/4G models will be available for both AT&T and Verizon in the U.S., which base their networks on competing cellular technologies.
The iPad will ship March 16 in the U.S., Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the U.K. Other markets are expected to follow, although Apple did not disclose a timeline or list.
Apple will begin to take pre-orders for the iPad today at its online store.
The new tablet is slightly heavier -- about two ounces heavier -- and slightly thicker than the iPad 2. Like that model, it comes in both black and white configurations.
As expected, the new iPad boasts a higher-resolution 2,048-by-1,536-pixel display, which provides four times the number of pixels as the 1024-by-768 resolution of the iPad and iPad 2. Schiller called it a "Retina" display, the label Apple uses for its iPhone screens.
"This is the best mobile display that has ever shipped," claimed Schiller.
Gottheil called out the higher-resolution screen as the biggest improvement. "This is going to be extremely important to people, especially those who use the iPad as an e-reader," he said. One market where that will be a big win for the iPad, he added, is education, where Apple recently made a push into the digital textbook space.