SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple Inc. Chief Executive Steve Jobs took a break from his medical leave Wednesday to introduce the company's new iPad, an upgraded tablet that could help the company fend off a slew of rivals in the tablet-computer market.
"We've been working on this product for a while and I just didn't want to miss the day," Jobs said shortly after receiving a standing ovation.
Jobs, who took the highly publicized leave in mid-January and who has battled pancreatic cancer for years, threatened to upstage his own product with his surprise appearance.
Jobs appeared in his trademark black turtleneck and blue jeans to show off the new iPad, which is one-third thinner and substantially lighter than the original and will come in both black and white.
Jobs said Apple has sold more than 15 million iPads since it was launched last April, generating $9.5 billion in revenue for the tech giant and leaving all of its tablet competitors far behind. Analysts expect Apple to sell more than 35 million tablets this year.
The iPad 2, as Apple calls it, will go on sale March 11 at the same price as its predecessor, starting at $499 for the entry-level device with Wi-Fi only, and going up to $829 for the version with a 3G cellular connection. Consumers can get the cellular iPad 2, which requires a $30 monthly contract, from both AT&T and Verizon.
Apple highlighted the new iPad's lighter weight -- 1.3 pounds compared with the 1.5-pound original, as well as the addition of front- and back-facing video cameras that allow users to conduct video chats. The device has a newer computer processor that will make it run faster and allow for smoother performance of video-intensive applications.
Jobs spent considerable time showing off a new case for the iPad. Apple said the case for the original device was too bulky and interfered with its performance. The newer case, which Apple calls a "smart cover," magnetically attaches to the front of the iPad to create a kind of screen protector and automatically puts the machine into sleep mode when it is attached.
Though none of the new features were surprising, analysts felt the incremental enhancements would allow the iPad to keep its place at the top of the tablet market.