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Apple unveiled its next-generation iPad in San Francisco on Wednesday, with CEO Steve Jobs--who's on indefinite medical leave--making a surprise appearance. The iPad 2, which will ship on March 11 in the U.S, will have faster graphics, a new operating system, and a thinner and lighter design than the iPad 1, but will cost the same price of $499. It will come in white, sport video cameras in the front and back (and hence offer FaceTime), and boast a magnetized "smart cover" that automatically turns the iPad on when you open it and turns the device off when you close it.

But Apple, if you thought you shocked everyone with your stagecraft and announcements, you're plain wrong. Tech writers were sniffing out clues from the moment they arrived at the Yerba Buena center. And actually, they did pretty well.

Reuters correspondent Alexei Oreskovic was eagled-eyed from the very beginning. "Buffet table at iPad holding pen has a bowl full of green apples mixed with pears, he tweeted. "What does it mean??"

Tech writer Ryan Block soon spotted Apple executives Tim Cook and Phil Schiller and mused, "Interesting, Cook and Schiller both mingling, not backstage. Given that, I'm guessing Jobs is going to be doing this event." Then Dan Moren at Macworld noticed an armchair and end table on stage. "So if there were any lingering thoughts that this isn't the iPad 2, there you go," Moren offered. Engadget added, "the chair / table setup is here ... just like when Steve showed off the first iPad."

Then, as a series of Beatles songs gave way to Here Come's the Sun, Oreskovic observed that the "volume of music appears to be increasing. feels like we working up to some sort of crescendo." Sure enough, Jobs soon walked out in "blue jeans, black turtleneck, of course" to applause.

With Jobs' presence now confirmed, David Sarno at the LA Times turned his attentions to the iPad 2. He grew suspicious when Apple played a video about the "year of the iPad" in 2010. "Often at this point in shows, Apple is already showing the next generation of a device, rather than reviewing what happened in the past," Sarno explained. "Could this be a clue that the new version won't be as explosive as some of their product launches are?"

Was Sarno right?

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