With the latest version of its iPad tablet, Apple is taking aim at television sets. Cecilia Kang and J.D. Harrison report:

Apple unveiled a new iPad on Wednesday with a display that the company said is sharper than the most sophisticated television sets, upping the ante in the competition to deliver digital entertainment on the go.

At the media event, Apple executives repeated predictions that the iPad would hasten the end of the reign of personal computers in American homes. But their efforts to improve and tout the iPad’s screen show that the company is becoming a threat to another long-established market: the TV business.

“We are taking it to a whole new level and are redefining the category that Apple created with the original iPad,” said the company’s chief executive, Tim Cook.

Staking a claim to the most lasting of consumer electronics — the television — has been an elusive ambition for many firms, including Apple. Google’s push for an Internet television has fallen flat. Video streaming giant Netflix gave up on its own TV set five years ago. Apple, with a modest offering of a la carte videos, has yet to win over hard-bargaining Hollywood studios or break the grip that cable giants have over the market for on-demand content.

With the new iPad, users would be able to go to network Web sites and watch their favorite shows in high definition for free. Some consumers may be more willing to cut the cord to their cable service.

“It just makes viewing video much better on a device and makes the consumption of media much more personal,” said Ross Rubin, an analyst at NPD Group.

Apple is expected to release its own flat-screen television later this year, analysts say. But for now, it has put out a pretty good mobile alternative in the new iPad. Apple also announced an upgrade to its $99 Apple TV set-up box, which streams content to traditional television sets. That video will be offered in full high definition, Apple said.

Columnist Joshua Topolsky was able to do a ‘hands-on’ with the device at the launch event. He offers his initial impressions of the device:

For starters, the new iPad boasts an absurdly high-resolution screen. The device has a 9.7-inch “Retina Display,” which in iPad terms means 2048 by 1536. Your HDTV has only a 1920-by-1080 resolution. That’s right — it’s got more pixels than your “HD” home theater setup.

As a result, the screen on the device is absolutely stunning. The retooled Apple-developed applications and icons really do pop on this thing. When you are looking at Web pages or books, text looks smooth and clean — it’s almost a bit surreal how clear it is. Think of a glowing piece of paper, and you’re getting there. Games look great, too, though most titles haven’t been updated for the new resolution yet. When I originally saw the iPhone 4 in 2010, I was blown away by its Retina Display, and the new iPad screen had the same effect on me. Basically, there’s no other product like it on the market.

What’s most impressive is that the hardware driving the display doesn’t hesitate at all. I didn’t see any lag or weirdness when zipping around in apps, and new gaming titles like Epic Games’ Infinity Blade: Dungeons looked nearly as good as on a home console.

That’s mostly because of the new A5X system-on-a-chip that Apple has installed in the new iPad, which boasts a quad-core graphics unit to handle some of that complex number crunching. Apple was mum on whether the RAM inside the new iPad had been upgraded, but I’ve heard from sources that there’s been a bump. That should come in handy for developers creating more taxing apps for the tablet.

As I said, the new iPad is physically similar to the last model, though it carries a slight bit more weight (an almost imperceptible 0.11 pounds) and is a tiny bit thicker (0.37 inches compared with the older version’s 0.34-inch profile). You probably won’t notice it in your hands, and luckily, if you’re upgrading from the previous model, your old accessories will work just fine.

There was a lot at stake at the launch event for Apple chief executive Tim Cook. Sarah Halzack writes:

The announcement Wednesday of the new iPad and the new Apple TV wasn’t chief executive Tim Cook’s first time leading an important Apple launch event. After Jobs’s resignation in August, Cook was tasked with introducing the iPhone 4S, which fast became the company’s best-selling smartphone.

But the arm-chair quarterbacking about Cook’s performance was cut short by the announcement just one day later that Jobs had died.

So how Cook fare this time around? Many analysts seem to agree that he held his own on the Yerba Buena Center stage: He was steady, in control and managed to project the casual-cool that seems to define the Apple brand instead of the stodgy, corporate image it typically tries to avoid. And the aesthetics and theatrics of the presentation seemed consistent with previous Apple events. The projections on the backdrop behind him were spare and uncluttered in their design and delivered only the most need-to-know facts about the product.

Jobs’s onstage persona will be difficult for Cook to match. For many years, the Apple co-founder was the fulcrum that made these events work: His enigmatic nature coupled with his almost palpable enthusiasm for the devices gave the presentations a special sort of luster.

Tim Bajarin, an analyst with California-based Creative Strategies, told Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, “Nobody whipped up the Mac faithful like Steve Jobs did. It would be unfair for Tim to even have to try to play that exact role.” 

Still, it seems many analysts agree that Cook’s easy demeanor and obvious knowledge of the products were enough to keep investors and consumers from doubting Apple’s new leader.

Related content:

Hands on with the new Apple iPad

How is this iPad different from iPad 2?

Comparing the new iPad to other tablets