Thinner, faster iPad 2 to arrive on March 11 at $499

Feign surprise if you like; today's iPad 2 announcement was spoiled quite a while ago. Still, now that it's official, we know the faster, thinner, and lighter tablet will be available on March 11 at the same $499 introductory price as the original iPad. Ready your credit cards.

At the heart of the iPad 2 lies a brand-new Apple A5 system-on-a-chip with two processor cores and, according to Apple, nine times the graphics horsepower of the A4. Despite the faster silicon, Apple has managed to make the iPad 2 33% thinner (0.34") and 13% lighter (1.3 lbs) than the first-gen model, all the while keeping battery life steady at 10 hours. Other additions include rear and front cameras, a built-in gyroscope, and HDMI output capabilities... if you purchase the $39 HDMI adapter cable from Apple. Just don't look for a high-DPI display—the new iPad's 9.7" panel still has a 1024x768 resolution.

On the software side of things, Apple is planning to introduce iOS 4.3 for iPads, non-Verizon iPhones, and iPod touch 3G and 4G devices on March 11. The software update will bring quicker JavaScript in Safari, support for streaming iTunes content over Wi-Fi, Facetime capabilities for the new iPad, and a Wi-Fi hotspot feature for the iPhone 4. You'll be able to choose the function of the iPad's hardware switch—rotation lock or mute—as well.

Apple will offer the iPad in black and white variants at the same prices as the previous model. That means $499 with Wi-Fi and 16GB of storage capacity, $100 extra for each capacity increase to 32GB or 64GB, and a $130 premium for 3G connectivity. The top-of-the-line, 64GB, 3G-enabled model will set you back $829. Toss in the $39 HDMI adapter and the rather nifty magnetic cover, which also costs $39, and you're up just over $900. (As you might have guessed, both AT&T and Verizon will offer 3G connectivity.)

Check out Engadget's live blog for coverage of the announcement. As Wired reported yesterday, this event is tantamount to Apple crashing the Game Developers Conference. Steve Jobs pointed out before the big reveal that the iOS App Store boasts 65,000 apps, including many games, and that iOS developers have made a total of $2 billion so far. Considering the iPad 2's substantially faster graphics, I think it's pretty clear Apple is actively trying to draw more game developers toward its platform.

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