“The third post-PC blockbuster product” – this is the phrase that Steve Jobs used to describe the iPad at their recent media event for the iPad 2. Regardless of how you feel about the company or their products, there is no denying that Apple is one of the best when it comes to product design and marketing. Eager consumers flock to get the latest Apple hardware each year, often waiting in lines hundreds deep for hours on end.

The original iPad launched in April 2010 and managed to sell 15 million units in nine months. That equates to roughly $9.5 billion in revenue for Apple and perhaps one of the most successful tech launches in history. Granted, not even Apple could predict the iPad's rocketing success.

Competitors soon realized the value in this newfound tablet market and got to work at a feverish pace, although already at a disadvantage and having to play catch-up. There have only been a handful of notable launches from the competition so far such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the recently released Motorola Xoom, with many more to come, but according to Apple they still hold a >90% market share in this new segment and we tend to believe them.

Hardware

This brings us to the highly anticipated iPad 2 which went on sale March 11. The iPad 2 improves on the original in many ways, including a significantly faster dual-core CPU, improved graphics and a thinner footprint. If the 300+ people that were in line ahead of me on launch day or the continued shortages across the US are any indication, both Apple and their loyal customers have a promising year ahead.

Externally, the most noticeable difference between the original iPad and the iPad 2 is how slim it is – a full 33% thinner (13.4mm compared to 8.8mm). It may not sound like much, but considering how thin the original iPad already was, the difference is significant. In fact, the iPad 2 is thinner than the iPhone 4 by a few millimeters.

The iPad 2 also manages to shave off 0.2 pounds for a total weight of 1.33 pounds on the Wi-Fi only model. The weight difference isn’t really noticeable in my opinion, nor is the 1/8th inch smaller bezel surrounding the screen. The 1024 x 768, 9.7 inch IPS display remains unchanged, although in a side-by-side comparison, the original iPad display shows a much more yellowish tint.

Apple has included two cameras on the iPad 2 – a VGA-quality front facing lens for FaceTime and a rear-facing camera capable of recording 720p video. Unfortunately the lens quality on the rear of the iPad 2 isn’t nearly as good as the one found on iPhone 4. I would likely only use it to snap still photos if I didn’t have anything else on hand. Otherwise, it’s not a replacement for a point-and-shoot or even a decent quality smartphone camera.

Scanning the perimeter of the new tablet shows some changes as well. At the top is a headphone jack and power button, both in the same position as before, but the microphone has been relocated to the center. The volume rocker and orientation lock switch are also in the same location, as is the dock connector. The speaker has been relocated to the back of the tablet and thankfully the grill looks nothing like the hideous mock-ups that were making the rounds in the months prior to the iPad 2’s unveiling.

Speaking of the rear of the iPad 2, Apple has redesigned it with curved edges and a flat back. This allows it to sit more evenly when lying on a flat surface. The curved edges also give the iPad 2 a more natural feel in your hand, although there might be a little concern when connecting headphones or the docking connector to the iPad 2 because a portion of these connectors are left exposed on the curved backside.

Perhaps the biggest differences in the iPad 2 come from the hardware within. Namely, the 1 GHz dual-core Apple A5 processor and the PowerVR SGX 543MP2 dual-core GPU. Other hardware improvements include a jump to 512MB of RAM to match the iPhone 4 specs. Nearly everything else internally has been carried over from the original: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB capacities, Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n), and the same 10 hour battery life – the latter courtesy of a redesigned, thinner battery pack.

The iPad 2 we have on hand is a Wi-Fi only 32GB black model which was the only thing available at my local Apple store by the time I got inside. In total there are 18 different iPad 2 configurations: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB, Wi-Fi only, Verizon and AT&T cellular-equipped, all in your choice of white or black front bezels.