The cat is finally out of the bag! After months of speculation as to what the next generation iPad will or will not have, the answers finally came today from the man himself. At today’s media event, Steve Jobs officially announced the iPad 2 would be arriving in the US on Friday March 11th and internationally on Friday March 25th.

What’s new?

Before the media event was even over, Apple had already updated their site with complete details of the iPad 2, but in case you missed it, here’s the rundown:

In a nutshell, the new iPad will be sleeker, thinner, lighter, faster and feature two cameras one front-facing VGA camera for FaceTime support and a 720p camera in the back for HD video recording. There will also be a gyroscope, perfect for some interesting new gaming experiences. Unlike the debacle that happened with the iPhone 4, the iPad 2 WILL be available in both black and white on launch day. The brand new dual-core A5 chip means that the iPad 2 will be (up to) twice as fast as it predecessor. “With up to nine times the graphics performance, gameplay on iPad is even smoother and more realistic.” Despite the more powerful processor, the new iPad will offer the same 10-hour battery life as the original iPad. Oh and the other thing that is staying the same…THE PRICE!

That’s right, when it launches, all 6 models of the iPad 2 will carry the same price tags that the original iPad had when it launched just over a year ago. This means you can pick up the wifi-only model in 16GB, 32GB or 64GB configurations for $499, $599, and $699 respectively. If you want to add the ability to use 3G as well, that will cost you an extra $130 (plus monthly data plan costs from AT&T or Verizon). As a result, Apple has also dropped the price of the remainder of the stock of original iPad models by $100 to try to clear them out.

As of right now, you cannot pre-order an iPad 2. Unfortunately the only way you’ll be able to buy it is to either order your iPad 2 from the Apple Online Store starting March 11 and Apple will ship it to you for free, directly to your door. Or buy an iPad 2 at your local Apple Retail Store starting
at 5:00 p.m. on March 11. Warning, if you choose the second option, you’d better be prepared to wait in an insanely long lines. Personally I have a theory as to why there are no pre-orders. Leading up to the surprise announcement that Apple would be holding today’s media event, there were several rumors that the iPad 2 would be delayed. I’m speculating that with the imminent releases of both the Motorolla XOOM and BlackBerry® PlayBook™, Apple needed to get their product out, so they likely pushed up the release date, meaning they would be unable to produce the volume of units necessary to support a mass pre-ordering event. And thus we’ll only have the option to purchase ON launch day.

Accessories…what would a launch be without expensive accessories.

The first is the all-new iPad Smart Cover. It is a thin cover that rests over the screen of the iPad, held in place by “smart magnetic technology”. “The iPad Smart Cover falls perfectly into place and stays put to protect your iPad screen, yet doesn’t add bulk to its thin, light design. Open the Smart Cover and your iPad wakes up instantly. Close it and your iPad goes to sleep automatically. And here’s another smart part: It transforms into the perfect movie-watching, game-playing, web-surfing stand. It comes in 10 bright colors — including five in rich, aniline-dyed Italian leather.” There is also a microfiber lining gently buffs off any smudges or fingerprints as you move

The cover looks rather attractive and functional (if not a bit overpriced), but does leave the rear of the iPad unprotected…just something to consider. The polyurethane Smart Covers will cost $39 each while the leather versions will be $69 each. See the Smart Cover in action here.

The second big must-have accessory is the 30-pin dock connector to HDMI dongle allowing Video Mirroring with up to 1080p resolution. “Video mirroring is new for iPad and for every app, web page, presentation, video, movie, or photo you want to show a big audience. Just plug in the Apple Digital AV Adapter or Apple VGA Adapter (sold separately) and your HDTV or projector becomes a bigger version of your iPad. One plug, that’s it. Everyone sees what’s on your display — even when you rotate iPad from portrait to landscape or zoom in and out on photos.”

The Digital AV Adapter will set you back another $39. Personally I think this seems a bit overpriced for what probably cost only a buck or two to produce. I would have rather seen Apple include a built-in HDMI port, but at least the functionality is there. You can learn more about Video Mirroring here.

Who’s buying?

The new iPad 2 looks like an awfully tempting package and at least in my opinion, exactly what the first gen iPad really should have been. I know I am tempted to pick one up! So will you be buying an iPad 2? Either way, let us know in the comment section below. You can see even more details on the various features of the new iPad 2 on Apple’s official site.