Reuters/ Apple’s new iPads sport modest upgrades; minis start at $399

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SHAFAQNA –  Apple Inc (AAPL.O) introduced a faster, slimmer iPad Air 2 on Thursday, tacking on modest improvements such as a fingerprint sensor to its mainstay tablet in time for what is expected to be a hotly contested holiday season for mobile devices. Pre-orders start Friday for the larger iPad Air 2, priced at $499 and up, with shipping beginning next week. The smaller iPad mini 3 will be about $100 cheaper.

Marketing chief Phil Schiller, calling the larger tablet the world’s slimmest, described several new features such as an anti-reflective screen and confirmed the inclusion of the “Touch ID” sensor, already available on the latest iPhones.

Apple may struggle, however, to arouse the same passion for tablets as in past years, among consumers faced with an abundance of hand-held, touch-screen devices.

Tablet sales are set to rise only 11 percent this year, according to tech research firm Gartner, compared to 55 percent last year, even as smartphone sales continue to soar and personal computer sales are waning.

Tablet sales for Apple, which defined the category with the iPad just four years ago, have fallen for two straight quarters. Investors remain focused on the iPhone, Apple’s main revenue generator, but a prolonged downturn in iPad sales would threaten about 15 percent of the company’s revenue.

The new iPads will go up against recently introduced tablets from Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) and Google Inc (GOOG.O) in coming months.

Shares of Apple edged down 0.6 percent to $96.95 at mid-afternoon.

 

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Apple also said it will launch its new electronic payments service on Monday, after the iPhone maker signed up another 500 banks to support a feature that competes with eBay Inc’s (EBAY.O) PayPal and other online systems.

Chief Executive Tim Cook said developers were beginning to design apps for its upcoming Watch.

Apple last month introduced the Watch, its first new device since the iPad in 2010. The company’s entry into the rapidly expanding wearable computing arena will be available only from 2015, but Cook said software development kits for the device will be available from November.

Also in Thursday’s line-up was a new iMac with a “retina” or high-end display.

 

(Reporting by Christina Farr; Editing by James Dalgleish and Richard Chang)

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