Apple updates iPad, renames it iPad Air

The company also introduces a new iPad Mini, with both due on sale in November

Apple has given the iPad its first redesign since it debuted in 2010 and rechristened it the iPad Air. The fifth-generation model of the popular tablet computer is thinner and lighter than previous models and will go on sale starting in November.

"Today, we think we have taken the biggest step yet in delivering the vision that is iPad," said Phil Schiller, vice-president.

Chief among the cosmetic changes is a thinner gap between the right and left edges of the screen and the side of the body. The gap, called the bezel, is 43 percent narrower than on the previous iPad.

Apple has been able to slim down the iPad thanks in part to improvements in electronics, such as the miniaturization of components. Overall, the iPad Air is 7.5 millimeters thick, a 20 per cent reduction from the previous model. Its weight has been reduced from 652 grams to 469 grams (1.4 pounds to 1 pound), said Schiller.

"When you hold it, it will be a dramatically different experience than the previous iPad," he said.

The changes are more than just skin deep, however.

The fifth-generation iPad has been given a more powerful processor: the same A7 that's used in the iPhone 5s. The new chip brings twice as much CPU and graphics performance, said Schiller.

The iPad Air will be available in many countries from Nov. 1. Pricing will begin at US$499 for the basic 16GB version with Wi-Fi and models with cellular support will cost an additional $130. The top-of-the-range iPad Air with 128GB and cellular support will cost $929.

Apple will continue to sell the current iPad, renamed the iPad 2, for $100 cheaper. It's the same pricing structure Apple used with the recently introduced iPhone 5s and the $100-cheaper iPhone 5c.

Apple will also put on sale a new version of the iPad Mini that comes with a higher 2,048 pixel by 1,536 pixel resolution "Retina" display. That's something users have been requesting.

The iPad Mini will ship later in November at a date to be announced. It will cost $399 for the 16GB version with Wi-Fi; that's a more expensive starting price than the current iPad Mini, which costs $329. Apple will keep the existing model on sale and, following the same pricing model, cut its price to $299 so that it's $100 cheaper.

The tablets will ship with new versions of some of Apple's flagship productivity apps, including iPhoto, iMovie and Garageband.

The iPad is Apple's second-best-selling product after the iPhone. It continues to generate billions of dollars in revenue for the Cupertino company each quarter, although sales were weaker in Apple's most recently reported quarter.

In the period from April to June this year, the company sold 14.6 million iPads, down from 17 million in the same period of 2012 and a disappointment compared to the sharply higher sales it had reported in the previous two quarters. At the end of 2012, the company scored record sales of 22.9 million in a single quarter, helped by the launch of the fourth-generation iPad and the first iPad Mini.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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