On March 2, 2011, Steve Jobs returned to the keynote stage after a long period of medical leave. It was the second-to-last keynote he'd ever conduct, and he received a long, loud standing ovation. He and Apple had been working on something for a long time, and he didn't want to miss it. The original iPad was supposed to have been magical, but no one, not even Apple, had known exactly how it would weave its spell. A year later and they had a much, much better idea. Where previously they'd known they'd had something, now they were beginning to understand just exactly what they had. It was thinner. It was lighter. It was faster. It was more smartly covered. And it could hold an entire band in its garage. It was the iPad 2.

During the iPad 2 event, Steve Jobs said people had made fun of Apple for using the word "magical" to describe their tablet, but that it had turned out to be just that. He proclaimed 2010 as the year of the iPad. He teased 2011 as the year of the copycats before announcing what he thought it really was: the year of the iPad 2.

iPad 2: Faster, thinner, Lighter

The iPad 2, code named K94 and model number iPad 2,1, has the same 9.7-inch, 1024x768, 132ppi screen as the original, and came in the same Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + 3G HSPA/EVDO Rev. A - hello Verizon! - models. It was considerably faster, however, sporting a new Apple A5 chipset with dual-core 1GHz ARM Cortex A9 processors, dual-core PowerVR SGX543MP2 graphics processors, and double the RAM at 512MB. It was up to twice as fast for CPU, and up to 9 times as fast for GPU tasks.

16, 32, and 64GB of NAND Flash storage remained the same as well, as did the 25 watt-hour battery. Bluetooth stayed at 2.1 + EDR, by a gyroscope joined the sensor array.

Thinner and lighter was taken care of by an all-new design that reduced it from 0.53- to 0.34-inches - making it 33% thinner - and from 1.5 to 1.33lbs. Jobs made sure to mention several times on stage that the numbers were deceptive and at those tiny sizes and weights, small reductions made for big differences in how it felt. It wasn't a breakthrough, certainly nothing that changed it from a 2-handed to a 1-handed device, or made it easier to use for long periods of time without resting it on a surface, but it was a significant improvement.

The iPad 2 also added cameras. Two of them. a rear-facing 1.3 megapixel/720p camera (what Apple now markets as iSight), and a front-facing 0.3 megapixel/VGA camera (FaceTime). They were... terrible. But they were cameras. It also added a second color. In addition to black and aluminum, you could get the iPad 2 with an iPhone 4-style white front plate instead.

Prices stayed exactly the same, starting at $499.

iPad 2: Better magic

The iPad 2 launched on March 11 in the U.S., and 25 additional countries on March 25. Apple sold 15 million iPads in 2010, more than all Tablet PCs sold in history before that. They sold 15.4 million iPad 2 tablets in Q4 2011 alone. Almost 30 million from March to December. From 65,000 tablet-optimized apps, they reached 200,000. Year of the iPad 2 indeed...

But would 2012 be the year of the iPad 3?