SHAFAQNA– Apple Inc. 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.
Executives boasted the 9.7-inch screen iPad Air 2 is as slim as a pencil, offers 10-hour battery life and has improved camera sensors on the front and back of the device.
In Canada the Air 2 base model will start at $549 and range up to $899 for the highest-end LTE-enabled version. Apple also revealed tweaks to its 8-inch model, iPad Mini 3 (priced between $439 and $799). The new starting price for the cheapest iPad Mini (the older non-Retina screen edition) is now $279.
But Thursday’s event comes as sales of Apple’s iPads have dropped. Tablet sales for Apple, which defined the category with the iPad just four years ago, have fallen for two straight quarters. Through the first half of this year, Apple had shipped 29.6 million iPads, a 13 per cent drop from the same time last year. Investors remain focused on the iPhone, Apple’s main revenue generator, but a prolonged downturn in iPad sales would threaten about 15 per cent of the company’s revenue.
Overall, tablet sales are set to rise only 11 per cent this year, according to tech research firm Gartner, compared to 55 per cent last year, even as smartphone sales continue to soar and personal computer sales are waning. This week, research firm Gartner projected worldwide shipments of 229 million tablets this year.
Apple has been facing competition from cheaper tablets running Google’s Android operating system. Ahead of Apple’s event, Google announced Wednesday that an 8.9-inch Nexus 9 tablet is coming next month at a starting price of $399, $100 less than the 9.7-inch iPad Air. It will run a new version of Android, dubbed Lollipop.
More than half of U.S. households own at least one tablet, and the rest include people who may not want one or can’t afford it, Gartner analyst Mika Kitagawa said. While wireless carriers often subsidize smartphones, customers typically pay full price for tablets – starting at $499 for the iPad Air.
She said people are more likely to view a smartphone as essential, while they may use a smartphone or a traditional computer for many of the functions that a tablet can perform. In addition, some tablet owners are now buying hybrid devices that combine a tablet with a lightweight, detachable keyboard. Many of those run on Microsoft’s Windows system. Gartner counts those as personal computers, not tablets.
Apple announced its new electronic payments service (Apple Pay) will launch on October 20, after the iPhone maker signed up another 500 banks to support a feature that competes with eBay Inc.’s PayPal and other online systems.
Another addition to Apple’s line-up is the new iMac with a “retina” or high-end display boasting 5K resolution. Apple also made its new Mac operating system, Yosemite, available as a free download starting Thursday. Chief Executive Tim Cook, said developers were beginning to design apps for its upcoming Watch.