It’s here!

After a long wait filled with much rumor and speculation (driving tons of traffic to tech blogs), Apple unveiled the latest version of the iPad at a press event in San Francisco.

Referred to simply as “the new iPad”, it’s the first iPad to be launched since the passing of Apple co-founder and iPad creator Steve Jobs, and while nobody can introduce a new product in the same way Jobs could, it’s hard to mess up the introduction of a new version of the iPad.

And what is that new iPad? Well, if the iPhone 4S was the iPhone 4 on steroids, the same description could probably apply here, as the new iPad looks a lot like an iPad 2 on steroids — a lot of steroids if you’re looking at the display.

The new iPad’s 9.7-inch Retina display manages to fit a resolution of 2048×1536 into its frame, making it, as Engadget notes, perhaps “the most pixel-packed slate on the market.” Apple notes it’s better than 1080p, and says it delivers 44% greater color saturation to boot. Supporting the display is an A5X quad-core graphics chip that Apple claims puts the Tegra processor used by some iPad competitors to shame.

Other notable updates:

  • On the front of the device, an iSight camera similar to that on the iPhone 4S that has, amongst other things, autofocus and face detection. The back of the iPad adds a 1080p camera with a 5MP sensor, backside illumination, 5-element lens and a hybrid IR filter.
  • HSPA+ support, for download speeds of up to 21Mbps.
  • LTE support, which allows for blazing fast speeds of up to 73Mbps on the AT&T and Verizon networks.
  • Voice dictation, which allows users to, with the press of a single (new) button, speak and watch as the iPad turns their words into text. Siri, however, is still MIA.
  • Additional language support for Japanese as part of the latest release of iOS.

Pricing? Some believed a price hike was inevitable but Apple has managed to keep price of the new iPad the same as the iPad 2, with a 16GB model costing $499, a 32GB model going for $599 and a 64GB model setting consumers back $699. With 4G support, those prices jump to $629, $729 and $829, respectively. Following the unveiling of the new iPad, consumers interested in an iPad 2 will be able to get one for as little as $399 — still double the price of a Kindle Fire.

While there’s little doubt that Apple will sell a lot of new iPads to existing iPad owners, the real question is just how many new iPad owners Apple will create with the latest version. To be sure, some of its features, particularly the Retina display, are hard to call anything but impressive, but it’s not clear that this ‘upgrade’ of the iPad will help convince non-iPad owners that the iPad is a must-have device. After all, it’s hard to imagine that those who haven’t shelled out $500 for an iPad yet have been waiting for an even fancier, more powerful display.

Of course, it’s worth noting that Apple doesn’t necessarily need to expand the scope of the market for the iPad, at least for the time being. Right now it can do just fine selling the latest and greatest to customers who will love every new product it relaeses.

But it’s hard not to think that Apple’s apparent strategy of slightly bigger, slightly better and no more expensive, as opposed to the strategy employed by psuedo-competitors like Amazon (smaller, capable and less expensive) is something Apple should rely on exclusively in the coming years. In other words, let the speculation around a cheaper 7-inch iPad continue.