iPad Air and iPad Mini aim to retain Apple’s control of the premium tablet market
Apple has refreshed its tablet line up with the thinner, lighter, faster iPad Air and an iPad Mini with retina display, as the Cupertino-based company seeks to retain its lead in the high-end section of the market.
The new 9.7-inch iPad Air weighs just about one pound – 450g, or 480g for the LTE version – making it 29 percent lighter than the fourth generation iPad. It is 20 percent thinner at 7.5mm, and has a 43 percent narrower bezel around its borders. It is powered by the same 64-bit A7 processor that debuted in the iPhone 5S last month, allowing the battery to be smaller, while still providing a ten hour battery life.
The new 7.9-inch iPad Mini boasts the same A7 processor and includes the 3.1 million pixel retina display, which Apple says gives it 35 percent more screen space than seven inch tablets, making it “the only small tablet to offer the full iPad experience.”
The respective feature sets of the iPad Air and iPad Mini suggest the gap between the two tablets is narrowing, and the presence of 64-bit processors could make them attractive to enterprise customers.
Both have the M7 motion coprocessor that gathers data from the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass to offload work from the A7 chip to improve power efficiency.
The Wi-Fi has been improved, by adopting smart antennas for the multiple-in-multiple-out (MIMO) technology that is part of the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard, which doubles the Wi-Fi speed to a maximum of 300Mbps. Apple has stopped short of the new, even faster, 802.11ac standard, however.
The Facetime HD and five megapixel iSight cameras have also found their way onto both tablets, while there is also support for more LTE bands, as well as DC-HSPDA and HSPA+ networks, in the cellular versions of the tablets. The only major omission is the Touch ID fingerprint sensor that is one of the main selling points of the iPhone 5S.
Both tablets will be available in the UK from 1 November, with the iPad Air costing £399 for the 16GB version, £479 for the 32GB, £559 for the 64GB and £639 for the 128GB. A cellular version will cost an additional £100 on any variation.
Prices for the iPad Mini start at £319 for 16GB of storage, £399 for 32GB, £479 for 64GB and £559 for 128GB, with cellular functionality again costing an additional £100.
Apple also announced it is to discount the existing iPad Mini to £249 for the Wi-Fi edition and £349 for the cellular version. However analysts say the high-end specs on the new models, combined with their relatively dear price tags, is a sign that Apple has no interest in competing in the lower end of the market.
This would protect the iPad range’s desirability and profit margins, but reduce Apple’s overall market share and allow the likes of Google, Amazon and others to clean up at cheaper price points. Such a strategy is contrary to the one it has employed in smartphones, where it recently launched the iPhone 5C as its first cheaper model.
“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,” comments Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at Ovum. “Both devices should sell very well, especially over the holiday period, but Apple held off being as disruptive as they might have been by pricing them relatively high.
“This is the clearest statement Apple could have made that it is only interested in competing in the premium tablet space. The yawning gap between the specs of the cheaper iPad Mini and iPad 2 and the new iPads signifies that it is only willing to compete at the lower price points with older models.”
Both the iPad Air and iPad Mini run iOS 7 and Apple is looking to boost its software offering by making its iWork and iLife suites available free on all new devices, and will be offered as an upgrade to existing users.
This means iPhoto, iMovie, Garageband, Pages, Numbers and Keynotes, which have all been redesigned for iOS 7, will be present on the vast majority of Apple devices – something which could impact Microsoft, say observers.
“Though the iPad news will generate the headlines, the changes to Apple’s software licensing for Mac OS X, iLife and iWork is also important, not least for Microsoft,” adds Dawson. “Microsoft generates 96 percent of its operating margins from operating system and productivity software licensing, and Apple is now teaching people to expect both of those things to be free.
“While this won’t disrupt Microsoft’s business overnight, it will create further pressure on Microsoft to bring down prices for its productivity software and especially for Windows.”
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