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Wednesday, March 02, 2011, 08:35 pm PT (11:35 pm ET)

Wall Street impressed by 'evolutionary' improvement in Apple's iPad 2

Wall Street analysts reacted positively to Apple's unveiling of the iPad 2 on Wednesday and remained optimistic about the company's continued ability to lead the tablet market, though they viewed the refresh as mostly "evolutionary."

As expected, Apple revealed a faster, thinner and lighter second-generation iPad, officially dubbed iPad 2, to the media at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco on Wednesday. The touchscreen tablet, which sports front- and rear-facing cameras, an upgraded A5 CPU and improved graphics processing, goes on sale on March 11.

Though Wall Street analysts admitted that Wednesday's event contained few surprises, they remained confident that several key "evolutionary" upgrades and the addition of new content production apps to the iPad would continue to drive growth for Apple.

Boosted by investor confidence in both the iPad 2 and a surprise onstage appearance by Apple CEO Steve Jobs, shares of Apple closed the day up .80 percent at $352.12.

RBC Capital Markets

For analyst Mike Abramsky with RBC Capital Markets, the slimmer form factor and 'Smart Covers' magnetic cases demonstrate the design innovation that Apple needs to sustain leadership in the tablet market, while evolutionary improvements like FaceTime cameras, an HDMI-out accessory and a dual-core processor will keep the pressure on Apple's competitors.

Abramsky viewed Jobs' appearance as a "welcome surprise to the event," while noting that the other announcements and iPad 2 features were "largely inline" with expectations. According to the analyst, Apple's milestone of 100 million iPhones sold matches sales forecasts for the quarter.

The iPad 2 will likely "drive a 'mini' product cycle" for Apple similar to the MacBook Air, Abramsky said in his note to investors. The March 25 international launch of the iPad 2 will also precede most "next-generation competitive tablets" to several key international markets.

"iPad 2 raises the bar and sustains pressure on competitors, and continues to target media-centric tablet consumers seeking a premium experience," Abramsky wrote. However, according to Abramsky, the refreshed tablet from Apple doesn't "alter competitive landscape for pending Android tablets or PlayBook, which may appeal to different market segments (like Android/Google fans, productivity-centric or enterprise segments)."

Morgan Stanley

Katy Huberty with Morgan Stanley views the iPad 2 as "an important evolutionary step in the product's short history" that will likely serve to widen Apple's lead in the tablet market by building on the original iPad's "overall system, ecosystem and pricing advantage."

The analyst noted that there were "no big surprises" at the event, though she did notice "dramatic performance improvements," especially with webpage loading speeds, and an improved user experience during a hands on demo with the new device.

Huberty predicts a high adoption rate of the "Smart Covers," which could partially offset the second-generation tablet's presumably higher bill of materials.

According to the analyst, the March 11 ship date for the iPad 2 was "faster than expected" and could help Apple to continue widening its lead on competitors.

JP Morgan

In a note to investors, JP Morgan's Mark Moskowitz suggested that the firm's forecast of Apple holding 68 percent of the tablet market in 2011 "may be conservative" in light of Wednesday's iPad 2 rollout.

The analyst found it "suitably impressive" that Apple is already launching a second-generation iPad "just as the competition is rolling out or prototyping their first-generation tablets." The analyst also sees new interactive applications, such as iMovie, GarageBand and FaceTime, as likely drivers of growth among younger consumers.

Moskowitz called Apple's technical and form factor improvements "more than good enough," given that competing companies are viewed as bringing tablets with "higher price points or clumsier form factor/technical specs" to market.