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Apple unveils the new iPad

As expected, CEO Tim Cook today unveiled the latest version of Apple’s top-selling iPad tablet computer. But if Apple-watchers were expecting some dramatic makeover of the all-conquering iPad 2, then they were probably disappointed. The new iPad is definitely an upgrade over its predecessor, but the improvements are more about speeds and feeds rather than the ground-breaking innovations that we have become to expect.

Perhaps the most striking difference in the new iPad is the screen. The new Retina display is a staggering 2048x1536, which means that images will be sharper than anything we have seen to date on a mobile device or even a laptop. There is also a new chip under the hood, which will handle all those extra pixels while delivering even better performance and response times. None of this extra graphics capability or processing power will have any impact on the iPad’s impressive battery life, which remains around 10 hours on a single charge.

The iPad camera has also received a much needed upgrade, incorporating many of the features that are such a hit on the iPhone 4S. The iSight camera as it is being called includes backside illumination, tap to focus, face detection, video stabilization and a host of other helpful aids. The iPad also gets the new iPhoto app, which includes an array of on-screen photo editing tools.

Oddly enough, the new iPad doesn’t come with Siri, the creative virtual assistant for the iPhone that has quickly become a cultural icon. Instead, there is a beefed-up talk-to-text feature that extends to third party apps such as Facebook and Twitter.

Recognizing that the iPad can only be as good as its supporting network, Apple has upgraded the device to support the 4G LTE networks of both Verizon and AT&T. It has also been designed to travel well, with the ability to connect with a variety of overseas networks. And for the first time, the iPad can be used as a hotspot to connect up to five other networked devices.

The new iPad, which is not being called the iPad 3, will be in stores starting March 16, although it’s available for pre-order immediately. Pricing starts at $499 for a 16GB Wi-Fi only model, with the Wi-Fi + 4G version starting at $629.

For those that think the price tag on the new iPad is still a little steep, Apple has cut the price of the iPad 2 by $100. The 16GB Wi-Fi-only iPad 2 now costs $399, with the 16GB Wi-Fi + 3G version at $529. The 32GB and 64GB versions of the iPad 2 have been discontinued.

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