Enter the iPad 2 era: Is this a gadget, a computer, or a TV? Yes.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduces the iPad 2, which has new features that further blur the lines between technologies like televisions, computers, and smartphones.

By , Staff writer

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    The camera application on the iPad 2 is demonstrated after an Apple event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater in San Francisco Wednesday.
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Apple unveiled its next-generation iPad Wednesday. It's a leap forward for tablets and a further blurring of lines among high-tech devices.

Is it improved as a portable communications device? Yes.

Does it offer new computer capabilities? That too.

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Can it be a TV? Yep, now with enhanced small-screen effects and the option of a $39 connector to play videos on a flat-screen television.

From its inception, the iPad has symbolized this kind of blend – delivering new versatility in a new format. But the iPad 2 pushes further down that path, and it comes as other devices are also carving out their own new niches in the tech ecosystem.

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Motorola's new Atrix smartphone fits in a pocket while a user is on the go, and then can serve as a low-end computer at home. (You dock it into a laptop-style monitor and then use a keyboard to browse the web, but the phone is still doing the work.)

The iPad has spawned a tide of other tablets in a variety of shapes and flavors. Most competitors lag behind Apple so far, but Motorola's Xoom (running Google's Android software) and iPad 2 are similar in screen size and in some other important ways. Tech analysts say Apple has an edge for now in pricing and available applications.

As the lines blur between smartphone and computer, so are the lines between computing and TV. A flat-screen TV nowadays is essentially a large computer monitor, though generally used for a different purpose. Hook the screen to a computer, and it can play video from websites like YouTube or Hulu as easily as programs from Comcast.

The second generation iPad adds the ability to link to a TV, though a state-of-art connection (HDMI).

The growing capabilities of smartphones, tablets, and computers mean that, for different people or at different moments, any one of them may take the lead in one's digital life.

Apple's announcement Wednesday came with a surprise appearance by Steve Jobs, who is on medical leave from his post as Apple CEO. The new iPad will offer cameras in front and back for photos and video chats. It offers a "smart cover" that protects the screen when not in use but also acts as a stand for movie-watching or game-playing.

The company also touted the machines for faster processor chips, thinner and lighter construction, and a battery life that's still in the 10-hour range.

The release date of March 11 excited Apple enthusiasts, but also shows how the company is scrambling to lock in its lead in tablets before rivals like Xoom catch on.

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