, , , , , , ,

Steve JobsApple chief executive, appeared onstage at an event in San Francisco on Wednesday as the tech company unveiled a new iPad.

Mr Jobs has been on leave from Apple since January due to ill health. He told the audience, “We’ve been working on this product for awhile, and I didn’t want to miss it.”

The Yerba Buena Center in downtown San Francisco was sealed off by security and decorated in Apple’s logo for the event, which started at 1000 Pacific time (1300 EDT, 1800 GMT).

In an attempt to retain its lead in the market, Apple is adding front and back-facing cameras and a gyroscope to the iPad 2. The new device will be “dramatically faster” with a A5 dual-core processor, Mr Jobs said, and will be 33 per cent thinner at 8.8mm – slimmer than the iPhone 4.

The iPad 2 will come in two colours – black and white – and be available in the US on Verizon as well as AT&T. March 11th will be the shipping date in the US, “in volume.” Shipping to 26 other countries will follow beginning March 25th. Pricing will remain the same, starting at $499.

Apple revived the tablet computing market when its first iPad went on sale last spring. It sold 15m iPads in nine months to December 2010, generating $9.5bn in revenue, Jobs said.

But a slew of competitors have announced rival products in recent months, many of them based on Google’s Android operating system, including Motorola’s Xoom and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab.

Gartner, the research firm, forecasts that nearly 65m tablets will be sold this year around the world, up from 21m in 2010. Growth will continue apace in the coming years, with 154m tablets sold by 2013, it predicts.

study by Boston Consulting Group published this week suggested that prices for tablets needed to fall to less than $200 to secure mass-market adoption.

Steve Jobs timeline

The FT looks at key moments for Apple and its CEO since 1972

The unveiling comes amid signs of waning enthusiasm among consumers and media companies for Apple’s device, which upon its release was hailed as a turning point for digital content.

Apple faces growing discontent from newspapers, digital music services and other media owners about its plan to take a 30 per cent commission on any subscriptions sold through the iPad’s App Store.

“I was actually rather shocked by the Apple [30 per cent commission] annoucment,” Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI, which represents record labels in the UK, told the FT’s digital media conference in London on Wednesday.

“I think it’s a negative thing for the development of the digital music market. Thirty per cent – which is more than the artists get, three to four times what the composers get – doesn’t seem fair in any way, it seems to me. They are in a very powerful market position and they are using that.”

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, the marketing group, recently dubbed Apple the media’s new “frenemy”, a phrase he famously once used to describe the industry’s love-hate relationship with Google.

Mr Jobs’ appearance at Wednesday’s event will turn attention back to the man who co-founded Apple in 1976.

On Tuesday night, the AllThingsD blog reported that Mr Jobs was “definitely considering” an appearance at the San Francisco event.

Apple has been criticised for providing only limited information about Mr Jobs’ health, after it announced in January that its co-founder would be taking an indefinite leave of absence from the company.

Mr Jobs underwent a liver transplant in 2009 and has suffered from pancreatic cancer in the past.

Speculation is already raging online about the iPad 3, which some technology blogs suggest could be released later this year with more radical improvements over the original.