Saturday, December 14

Apple unveils revamped iPads to beat back rivals


Apple’s new iPad Air (L) and iPad Mini tablets are seen in San Francisco, California. Apple unveiled upgraded versions of its iPads, with more power and sleeker designs to ramp up competition against rivals who now have a majority of the tablet market. (AFP/GLENN CHAPMAN)

SAN FRANCISCO: Apple revved up its iPad line on Tuesday as it moved to fend off rivals which have eroded its dominance in the sizzling tablet market.

A slimmer version of its top-selling full-size tablet computer, dubbed the “iPad Air,” was announced along with a revamped iPad Mini with an improved high-definition display.

Apple shares fell as investors reacted to a lack of fresh products, but some analysts remained upbeat after the US tech giant unveiled upgrades to its tablets, notebooks and desktop computers along with free software to sweeten the deal.

“I think it is going to be a really strong holiday for Apple,” Gartner analyst Van Baker said after spending some hands-on time with the California company’s newest devices.

“The highlight of the day is the breadth of Apple’s announcement; this is apps, tablets, MacBooks, Mac Pro, software… It is very wide ranging.”

The new iPad Air is 43 per cent thinner than the version it replaces, weighs just one pound (450 grams), and is “screaming fast,” Apple vice president Phil Schiller said at the unveiling in San Francisco.

The upgraded iPad Mini has a high-definition “retina” display along with faster computing power and graphics.

Both new iPads feature the Apple-designed A7 chip with 64-bit “desktop-class architecture,” Apple said.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook said he was not troubled by competition in the tablet space.

“Everybody seems to be making a tablet,” he told the audience. “Even some of the doubters are making them.”

But he said that notwithstanding sales figures, “iPad is used more than any of the rest, and not just a little more, a lot more.”

The iPad “is used over four times more than all of those other tablets put together, and this is what is important to us. People use it, and what is even more important to us, is people love it,” he said.

The two new iPads will be sold alongside the existing versions, starting November 1 in more than 40 markets around the world.

The iPad Air will start at US$499 and the new Mini version at US$399 for US customers. Apple will cut the prices of the older iPad versions.

Apple announced upgrades for its MacBook line of notebooks and Mac Pro desktop computer, and announced its new operating system called Mavericks would be available as a free upgrade for those with existing Apple computers.

In a strategic shift, Apple announced that iWork and iLife software suites for tasks from video editing to mixing music and making business presentations would be free for its mobile devices.

Baker said this is a smart move which can drive sales of hardware.

Like Google does with its online array of Docs applications, Apple will be making available for free productivity software that Microsoft sells to users of Windows-powered computers.

The new iPads come on the same day Microsoft began selling an upgraded version of its Surface tablet, and as Nokia unveiled its own tablet computer.

Industry tracker Gartner on Monday forecast that global tablet shipments will reach 184 million units this year — a 53.4 per cent rise from last year.

The iPad remains the largest-selling tablet, according to surveys, but its market share is being eroded by rivals using the Google Android operating system.

Apple is also under pressure to adapt to the popularity of premium tablets with high-quality screens in the seven- to eight-inch (18- to 20-centimeter) range where the Mini competes.

Jan Dawson, analyst at the research firm Ovum, said Apple’s latest “represents a good enough boost to the previous version to trigger good upgrade sales and get iPad shipments growing again, which was a key objective for this launch.”

But Dawson said Apple is raising the price for the new Mini, unlike competitors: “It seems as though Apple is trying to push average selling prices for iPads back up again after they’ve dropped steadily over the past year… This is the clearest statement Apple could have made that it is only interested in competing in the premium tablet space.”

This means Apple’s share in tablets will continue to fall as Android’s share rises over the coming years, Dawson said.

Apple shares fell 1.5 per cent to end at US$519.87.

Thomas Husson at Forrester Research Apple offered no new breakthroughs but that this should not be expected.

“Yes, at some point, the company will need to disrupt a new market once again, but today’s announcement is really about making sure it maintains the premium brand experience for the holiday season when competition is heating up — not just for tablets but also for the amazing new line of Mac products,” Husson said. – AFP