Apple CEO Steve jobs made a surprise appearance to launch the iPad 2, the latest version of its tablet computer, in San Francisco today.

The second generation iPad is set to go on sale March 11th in the United States at the same price as the original iPad. Canadians will have to make a trip south of the border or wait until March 25th to get their hands on one in this country.

The iPad 2 will be available in black or white and will sport a new design that is 33 percent thinner and almost 15 percent lighter than the original iPad, while maintaining the same 9.7-inch LED-backlit LCD screen. Other features include a new dual-core A5 processor, two cameras, a front-facing VGA camera for FaceTime and Photo Booth, and a rear-facing camera that captures 720p HD video.

The new device also includes a built-in gyroscope for advanced gaming; HSUPA support for enhanced 3G upload speeds on iPad 2 Wi-Fi + 3G on AT&T, and HDMI Video Mirroring that lets users mirror their iPad screen on an HDTV using an optional adaptor.

“With more than 15 million iPads sold, iPad has defined an entirely new category of mobile devices,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “While others have been scrambling to copy the first generation iPad, we’re launching iPad 2, which moves the bar far ahead of the competition and will likely cause them to go back to the drawing boards yet again.”

iPad 2 comes with iOS 4.3 whose new features include faster Safari mobile browsing performance; iTunes Home Sharing; enhancements to AirPlay; the choice to use the iPad side switch to either lock the screen rotation or mute audio; and Personal Hotspot to share an iPhone 4 cellular data connection over Wi-Fi.

Apple also introduced two new apps: iMovie and GarageBand for iPad, both available on the App Store for $4.99 each. iMovie lets users shoot and edit videos right on their iPad and post their movies to the web; watch them on their iPod, iPhone or iPad; as well as view them on their HDTV using AirPlay and Apple TV. GarageBand turns the iPad into a collection of touch instruments and 8-track recording studio.

The iPad 2 with Wi-Fi will be available on March 11 for a suggested retail price of $499 for the 16GB model, $599 for the 32GB model, $699 for the 64GB model. iPad 2 Wi-Fi + 3G will be available for a suggested retail price of $629 for the 16GB model, $729 for the 32GB model and $829 for the 64GB model.

In Canada, the iPad 2 will be available on March 25.

Discuss in Digital Home's iPad 2 ships March 11th (March 25th in Canada) discussion thread.