Steve Jobs returns to unveil the new iPad 2

APPLE surprised critics yesterday when its talismanic leader Steve Jobs made a surprise appearance to unveil the latest version of its iPad tablet computer.

Despite being on medical leave, Jobs took to the stage in San Fransisco, saying: “We’ve been working on this product for a while – I didn’t want to miss this one.”

The new tablet is twice as quick as the previous generation and features front- and rear-facing cameras.

It will be released on 25 March in the UK – far ahead of some analyst predictions.

It will be available in both black and white and, at just 8.8mm, it is a third thinner than its predecessor.

Jobs said Apple has sold a staggering 15m iPads in just nine months, generating $9.5bn (£5.8bn) in revenue for the Cupertino-based firm.

It controls 90 per cent of the nascent tablet market and is showing little signs of ceding ground to rivals.

Jobs also claimed Apple now has more active, credit-card registered accounts than any other company in the world – including book and music seller Amazon.

He said more than 100m iPhones have been sold and said developers have earned $2bn from applications sold through the App Store.

Apple has faced criticism from developers over its policy of charging a 30 per cent fee for ongoing subscriptions.

The firm was rocked in January when Jobs announced he would take an open-ended leave of absence on medical grounds.

The bombshell, dropped on the eve of Apple’s trading update, caused panic among investors who fear the firm could struggle without him at the helm.