The new iPad features a sharper screen and a faster processor. Apple says the new display will be even sharper than the high-definition television set in the living room.

Apple on Wednesday unveiled the third version of its genre-defining iPad tablet computer which will be available to consumers in the United States, Germany, France, Britain and Canada starting at 499 dollars from March 16.

“We’ve taken it to a whole new level and we are redefining the category that Apple created with the original iPad,” said Apple chief Tim Cook at a press conference in San Francisco.

“It makes amazing improvements over the most fundamental features of the design of the device while retaining everything that millions of people have grown to love about it,” he continued.

The new device, called simply the iPad, features a dual core A5X with quad-core graphics processor, a high-definition 2084x1536 Retina display which is “about 1 million more pixels than HDTV,” according to Apple, as well as a sharper 5 megapixel camera that includes special face detection technology.

Capable of accessing 4G mobile networks and creating its own mobile hotspot, the new iPad boasts download speeds that are five times faster than the current version, Mr. Cook said.

It also boasts a full complement of games, productivity and media software to take advantage of the new specs.

The unveiling of the new device had been widely expected, two years after Apple first launched the iPad, and a year after it introduced its successor the iPad 2.

Apple launches the new device from a dominant position in the tablet computer market. But Microsoft is readying its first tablet entry for later this year with the launch of the all-new Windows 8 operating system.

Apple has now sold some 55 million iPads, including 15.4 million in the last quarter, and is predicted to sell some 60 million iPads this year.

Market research firm Gartner predicts a total of 103.5 million tablet devices will be sold this year, rising to over 300 million by 2015.

Mr. Cook said that Apple has now sold over 172 million “post PC devices” which run on Apple’s mobile iOS software and which now make up 76 per cent of the company’s revenue.

The base level iPad features 16 GB of memory and wi-fi-only internet access. The cheapest version offering cellular internet access starts at 629 dollars. Apple also announced that the price of the existing iPad 32 models would be dropped by 100 dollars with the cheapest version now set at a price of 399 dollars.

At the presentation, Mr. Cook also announced the immediate availability of a new Apple TV device that is capable of streaming 1080p movies and TV shows.