A year after launching one of the most successful gadgets in history, a gaunt but still feisty Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs emerged from medical leave to unveil a new version of the iPad that's thinner, faster and going on sale March 11.

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A year after launching one of the most successful gadgets in history, Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs emerged from medical leave to unveil a new version of the iPad that’s thinner, faster and going on sale March 11.

The iPad 2 arrives amid intense competition from nearly every computer and phone maker on the planet — and growing regulatory concerns about Apple’s dominant market position and business practices.

Jobs was gaunt but still feisty, defiantly talking up Apple’s 90 percent market share for tablet computers in the U.S. and taking jabs at Amazon.com, Microsoft, Samsung and others.

“We think 2011 is going to be the year of iPad 2,” Jobs said.

With the world still trying to figure out how the iPad and other tablets fit into the mix of smartphones and computers, Jobs offered his take, calling the iPad a “post-PC” device designed from a different perspective than traditional computers.

“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices,” the revered executive explained in a soliloquy at the end of the launch event.

“A lot of folks in this tablet market are rushing in and they’re looking at this as the next PC. The hardware and software are done by different companies and they’re talking about speeds and feeds just like they did with PCs,” he continued. “Our experience and every bone in our body says that is not the right approach to this. These are post-PC devices that need to be even easier to use than a PC … where the software and the hardware and the applications need to intertwine in a more seamless way than they do on a PC.”

Jobs’ indictment of the PC industry’s approach over the past 30 years comes as a flood of new tablet computers based on Windows and Google’s Android operating system are coming to the market, posing the first real competition to the iPad.

Sales of these devices grew 30 percent in the third quarter of 2010, when Apple had 90 percent, according to research firm IDC. It’s expecting 44.6 million to be sold in 2011 and 70.8 million in 2012.

The new iPad is based on a new “A5” processor. It’s a dual-core, 1 gigahertz processor that’s up to twice as fast, and graphics are up to nine times faster than the A4 processor used in the first iPad, Jobs said.

Others are starting to ship dual-core tablets but the iPad 2 will be the first to ship “in volume,” Jobs said.

The new iPad has a rear-facing camera capable of 720p video capture and a front-facing camera for videoconferencing. It also now includes the gyroscope used in the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Jobs said the new iPad is “dramatically thinner — not a little bit thinner, a third thinner,” he said.

The iPad 2 is 33 percent thinner — from 13.4 millimeters to 8.8 millimeters — and thinner than the iPhone 4. It also weighs a bit less — 1.3 pounds vs. the previous 1.5 — and it comes in white as well as black.

“We’re going to be shipping white from Day 1,” he said, a reference to Apple’s troubles producing the promised white version of the iPhone 4.

Battery life will still be 10 hours for the iPad. The prices will be the same as the current iPad — $499 to $829, depending on memory size and wireless capabilities.

At launch, the new iPad will be available with 3G service on both AT&T and Verizon networks.

It’s going to ship on March 11 in the U.S., quelling recent concerns that the device had slipped to June. An additional 26 countries will get the device on March 25.

Jobs also announced a new $39 HDMI video cable that enables the iPad to output high-definition video to a TV screen. It also can be used to mirror the new “smart” covers to protect the iPad’s glass face. When opened, the covers wake the iPad automatically and use magnets to attach and align the covers. They’ll cost $39 for a polyurethane version and $69 for a leather version.

Also announced is version 4.3 of the iOS software used in the iPad. New features include a home-sharing feature and update to AirPlay allowing third-party applications to stream media in the home. There was no word on plans to allow media streaming over cell networks, and Apple didn’t say anything about anticipated cloud services.

The new software also lets iPad users choose whether to use the slider switch that locks the screen rotation to instead mute the iPad.

With the software and the new iPad’s front-facing camera, the device can be used with Apple’s FaceTime videoconferencing feature to chat with users of newer Apple phones and Macs.

The new software will be available free, also on March 11, to iPad, iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS devices.

Also announced were new iMovie and GarageBand applications, each of which will sell for $4.99 starting March 11.

The device feels lighter but it has the same general dimensions — a 9.7-inch diagonal display, with a single “home” button at the bottom.

Jobs didn’t discuss his health but indirectly acknowledged concerns after big applause from the crowd gathered at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in downtown San Francisco for the event.

“We’ve been working on this product for a while and I didn’t want to miss today,” he said.

Apple just passed 200 million accounts with credit cards and one-click purchasing, he said, suggesting that it’s outpacing Amazon.com.

Jobs said 2010 was the “year of the iPad” with 15 million units sold. Jobs said that’s more than all TabletPC’s ever sold, and that Microsoft’s slate computer didn’t invent the modern concept — it “crashed and burned,” he said.

Apple also recently sold its 100 millionth iPhone, and royalties on applications sold through iTunes reached $2 billion.

Reach Brier Dudley at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.