Apple Event: Will Thinner, Faster iPad be Unveiled?

The New iPad

Calling all Apple fans -- your newest object of obsession is about to arrive.

The company is hosting a media event today in San Francisco and, though officials are characteristically mum, industry watchers widely believe that Apple plans to take the wraps off of its much-anticipated iPad 2.

The unveiling of Apple's second-generation tablet computer will likely not be as dramatic as the debut of its first iPad last year. But Silicon Valley's rumor mill has still been buzzing about the device -- and the CEO behind it -- for months.

As chatter about the latest iPad has grown louder, so has speculation about the health of Apple's CEO, Steve Jobs, who has been out of the public eye since announcing in January that he would take a medical leave from the company.

On Tuesday, tongues wagged even more when a prominent tech blog reported that Jobs may make a rare appearance at today's event.

Citing several sources, All Things Digital's Kara Swisher said that Jobs is "definitely considering" showing his face at the iPad 2 launch. If he did appear, he would briefly take the stage with other Apple executives to showcase the company's newest product, she said.

But analysts say that though it's possible that Jobs, who said he would remain involved with the company while on leave, could make an appearance, it's unlikely.

"Steve is still chairman... If he feels good enough, it's in the realm of possibility that he could be there. But he has never made an appearance in public when he was on medical leave. Which is why it's doubtful," said Tim Bajarin, an analyst with the Silicon Valley-based technology firm Creative Strategies.

Still, although tabloid photos of a frail-looking Jobs have surfaced online, he apparently felt well enough to dine last week with President Obama and other technology luminaries at a private gathering.

Whether or not Jobs does make an appearance, Swisher said she hopes that media coverage focuses on the product itself and not the person.

"What would be a welcome change in the coverage of Jobs's personal struggles would be to show a level of respect to him by paying more attention to what bells and whistles the iPad 2 has rather than to how his jeans are fitting," she wrote.

Tablet Market More Competitive for iPad 2

And analysts say the new iPad's bells and whistles need to impress on their own if Apple wants to retain its edge in the rapidly-growing tablet market.

When Jobs announced the original iPad last year, Apple was the only company with a tablet-style computer ready for public consumption. But, this year, the landscape looks very different.

Motorola, Samsung, Hewlett-Packard and Research In Motion (which makes BlackBerrys) are all expected to unveil competitive tablets later this year.

Apple may have a significant lead over its rivals, but Bajarin said, "The consumer is going to have a plethora of choices by the end of the year."

At Apple's event today, Bajarin expects the company to announce a more refined iPad.

"That's their their typical approach," he said. "They'll bring out a product and they'll get feedback from customers and then they'll add new features."

Front-Facing Camera Among Top Recommendations From Customers

A front-facing camera for video chats and a thinner, lighter case were two key wishes customers had, and Bajarin said he expects the company to address both issues.

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