San Francisco - Apple unveiled a third-generation iPad on Wednesday, enhanced with features aimed at keeping it on top of the booming tablet computer market.
The new iPad boasts a more powerful processor, eye-grabbing resolution on par with that of an iPhone 4S, and the ability to connect to the latest 4G LTE telecom networks that move data faster than their predecessors.
"We think that iPad is the poster child of the post-PC world," Apple chief executive Tim Cook said, noting that iPad sales topped those of any personal computer maker during the final three months of last year.
"We have redefined once again the category Apple created just two years ago with the original iPad," Cook said at a press event in San Francisco, the first major product release by Apple since the death of founder Steve Jobs.
The new iPad will go on sale March 16 in Canada, France, Germany and the United States at the same price as the previous models, which start at $499 for the most basic iPad featuring wireless connectivity only.
An iPad with 16 gigabytes of memory and with both Wi-Fi and 4G connectivity will cost $629 in the United States while a 32GB Wi-Fi/4G model will cost $729 and a 64GB version with Wi-Fi and 4G will cost $829.
In a bid to cater to budget-minded shoppers, Apple will sell a 16GB version of the iPad 2 at a trimmed price of $399.
The new iPad screen was billed as the best display ever on a mobile device. The tablet also features a five-megapixel camera and high-definition video recording.
Apple said the latest model has the same 10-hour battery life as its predecessor, with the span cut by about an hour with constant use of high-performing 4G telecom networks.
The third-generation iPad weighs 1.4 pounds and is 9.4 mm thick, slightly heavier and slightly thicker than the previous model.
Apple showed off an enhanced suite of iPad applications for tasks ranging from movie editing to making music or managing one's life.
A new iPhoto application turns the iPad into a slick tool for editing pictures with simple touches or automated features.
Epic Games president Mike Capps joined Cook to show off a version of the Infinity Blade videogame for the iPad, contending the quality was comparable to videogame console play.
"It is an evolutionary upgrade with a lot of revolutionary features," said Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg. "It is going to put a lot more pressure than before on iPad competitors.
"The updates to GarageBand, iMovie, and the new iPhoto will drive this going forward," Gartenberg said.
"At the end of the day it isn't going to be Tim Cook that sells the iPad, it is going to be the iPad that sells the iPad; and they are going to sell a lot of them," he said.
Apple's App Store has more than 200 000 mini programmes or "apps" tailored for the iPad, with offerings including books, games and software designed for getting work done.
Apple has dominated the tablet market since launching the iPad two years ago and few expect that to change anytime soon.
IMS Research predicted that Apple would increase its tablet market share to 70% in 2012 from 62% in 2011 and it will ship 70 million iPads this year, up 71% over the previous year.
"Apple's insistence on blending hardware innovation with services innovation will keep the iPad at the front of the tablet pack for the foreseeable future," said Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps.
Apple real-world stores will be "critical" since the high-resolution screen is the major improvement in the iPad, and it needs to be seen to be fully appreciated, according to Gartner analyst Van Baker.
"It is astoundingly beautiful, but people are going to have to get it in their hands to see this," Baker said.
A new dictation-taking feature could be a stumbling point for the iPad, since that type of technology has proven to be a bane to other companies, according to independent analyst Rob Enderle of Silicon Valley.
The California-based gadget-maker on Wednesday also released an updated Apple TV box used to stream movies, television shows and other content from the internet to high-definition TV sets.
The new box features a streamlined new user interface and will sell for the same $99 price as the previous model.
Apple TV was synched with iCloud, on online content storage service that lets people buy films or television shows on the box but have the options of watching them on iPhones, iPads, iPod touch devices, or on computers.
Apple released the first version of Apple TV in 2007 but it has never really caught on with the public.
The iPad event was the second Apple product launch by Cook since he took over for Jobs, and both events showcased improved versions of products.
"Let's wait and see if Apple can bring an astounding new class of product to market," Baker said. "Ultimately, they need to do that."
Investors appeared unsurprised by Apple's announcements, with the company's stock price inching up slightly to $531.05 a share in trading on the NASDAQ.