15 million iPads later, Apple introduces the iPad 2

Apple has announced the first update to its hugely successful iPad. Billed by most commentators as an incremental rather than major upgrade, it sports dual cameras (front and rear) to support its Facetime video conferencing, a doubling of processor performance, and thinner, lighter construction. Apple has kept the price (US$499 for the WiFi model) and the battery life (10 hours) the same but has packed in more features.

Apple's iPad 2

Of the new features, the one that’s likely to be most useful as far as eReading goes is the weight and size reduction. It’s now 33% thinner and 15% lighter. In spite of the relatively modest weight reduction (it still has that glass slab supporting the screen), early hands-on reports indicate it actually feels much lighter than the iPad1. The iPad is often criticised for being too heavy to support extended reading sessions. This is true although my own experience is that, in spite of this, it still works well and is probably now my favoured eReader.

The new feature I’ll probably enjoy most will come from the operating system upgrade that was announced at the same time. iOS 4.3 offers some small improvements to iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches, including an option to use the iPad’s side switch as a rotation lock, a very handy feature for eReading. This was disabled in an earlier software upgrade to allow the switch to serve as a mute button.

Apple also announced that Random House will make its full catalogue of 17,000 ebooks available in the iBookStore. This follows the announcement a day earlier that Random House had adopted the agency pricing model, the last of the “Big Six” US publishers to so and a pre-requisite for joining Apple’s iBookStore.

Apple also said it now has 2500 publishers supplying its (US only) iBookStore. While this is progress, it’s a long way from Google’s 30,000 publishers and, (while I haven’t seen the number of titles), it’s no doubt a good way from Amazon with its 750,000 Kindle titles.

The iPad 2 launch was hosted by Steve Jobs—his first public appearance since he went on extended leave for health reasons. Jobs revealed that Apple shipped 15 million iPads since its April 2010 realease and it generated US$9.5 billion in revenue for Apple. An equally impressive number was the US$2 billion that Jobs says developers have earned from App sales (Apple would have pocketed a further US$1 billion from its 30% commission).

Putting this in perspective, the annual value of the US trade book market (based on sales by the 300 members of the American Publishers Association) is about US$5 billion.

The iPad 2 goes on sale in the US on 11 March at the same price as the current iPad. The iPad 1 will see its price drop by US$100 to $399 for the WiFi model. In New Zealand, we won’t have to wait long for a change. The iPad 2 will go on sale here on 25 March.

More on the iPad 2 announcement from ArsTechnica and Michael J. Miller at PCMag.com.

And here’s a video of the iPad 2, showing off the new features including its snappy new case.

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