Thinner iPad, Apple Pay, new Mac system debut
Cupertino, Calif. — Apple unveiled a thinner iPad Thursday with a faster processor and a better camera as it tries to drive excitement for tablets amid slowing demand.
The iPad Air 2, at 6.1 millimeters "thin," also adds many of the features previously available on iPhones. That includes the ability to take burst shots and slow-motion video and the inclusion of a fingerprint ID sensor for use instead of a passcode. It also has an anti-reflective coating, a first for a tablet, which makes it 56 percent less reflective, said Philip Schiller, senior vice president of marketing, on stage at the event at Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, California.
The iPad Air 2 will start at $499. Apple also updated its iPad Mini device, with a starting price of $399. The new devices will begin shipping next week, with advance orders starting Friday.
Meanwhile, Apple made its new Mac operating system, Yosemite, available as a free download starting Thursday. Apple Pay, the company's new system for using iPhones to make credit and debit card payments at retail stores, will launch on Monday.
CEO Tim Cook opened Thursday's product-launch event by touting strong reception to the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, released last month.
"It's been an incredible year and tremendously busy already," he said, adding that the new iPhones have been the fastest-selling in Apple's history. He reiterated that the iPhones will launch in China in just a few hours and said the launch is aligned with a rollout of 4G cellular networks there.
It's been a year since Apple came out with a lighter, thinner full-size model called the iPad Air. Apple refreshed that with a device that is even thinner, by 18 percent at 6.1 millimeters.
The rear camera is boosted to 8 megapixels, matching what's found in iPhones. Previous iPads had a 5 megapixel camera.
Thursday's event comes as sales of Apple's iPads have dropped. Through the first half of this year, Apple had shipped 29.6 million iPads, a 13 percent drop from the same time last year. Apple plans to issue results for the latest quarter on Monday.
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.
Besides competition, there's been an overall slowdown in tablet demand. This week, research firm Gartner projected worldwide shipments of 229 million tablets this year. Although that's up 11 percent compared with 2013, it's far less than the 55 percent growth seen last year and the more than doubling in sales in 2012.
Cook sought to address that by pointing out that the 225 million iPads sold cumulatively since 2010 is more than any other product Apple has sold in the first four years. He also said Apple sold more iPads over the past year than many manufacturers have for personal computers.
The company unveiled new iMacs with a sharper display, following what Apple has already done on its mobile devices and MacBook laptops. The company says the new iMacs have seven times the pixels found on standard high-definition television sets.
Apple also released its new Yosemite operating system for Macs as a free download. The Mac update includes aesthetic changes as well as new functionality, such as the ability to make phone calls with an iPhone nearby and a one-stop search tool for both locally stored documents and online resources.
Apple has been releasing Mac updates more frequently, in part to time them with annual changes to the iOS system for iPhones and iPads. Many of the new Mac features will complement what's found in iOS 8, including the ability to start tasks such as email on one device and finish on another.
During a demo, Apple executive Craig Federighi made a phone call to Stephen Colbert from his Mac and connected with the comedian. The call was actually being made through a nearby iPhone. He also used Apple's upcoming Apple Watch as a remote control to control a Mac presentation being projected onto a big-screen set via Apple TV.
Apple has already announced its new payments system, Apple Pay, but the iPhone feature wasn't made available right away.
In announcing a Monday launch date, Cook also said deals have been made with hundreds of additional credit card issuers since the service was announced last month. Cook also said additional merchants plan to accept Apple Pay by the end of the year.
With Apple Pay, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus owners will be able to make payments at brick-and-mortar stores by holding their phone near a card reader. The new iPhones have a wireless chip to transmit the information needed to complete the transaction. Owners of older models won't be able to use Apple Pay, even with the software update.
Consumers aren't likely to abandon plastic credit cards until a majority of retailers, especially smaller merchants, accept contactless payments such as Apple Pay. But Apple Pay may spur transactions over mobile Web browsers and apps this holiday season, since it lets consumers avoid typing in credit card information each time.
The new iPad Air 2 will be able to make browser transactions, but not payments at retail stores.
Apple says it will release tools next month so that developers can begin making apps for the upcoming Apple Watch wearable device.
Rival smartwatches running Android have suffered from not having many useful apps from the start. Apple is hoping to have a strong app store in place when Apple Watch debuts next year.