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Apple unveils revamped iPads to beat back rivals

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SAN FRANCISCO  (AFP) – Apple unveiled upgraded versions of its iPads Tuesday, with more power and sleeker designs to ramp up competition against rivals who now have a majority of the 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.

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

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

Apple chief executive Tim Cook said at the San Francisco event that consumers still love the iPad even though it no longer accounts for a majority of global tablet sales.

“Everybody seems to be making a tablet,” he said. “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 $499 and the new Mini version at $399 for US customers. Apple will cut the prices of the older iPad versions.

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

“iPad created an entirely new mobile computing experience, and the new iPad Air is another big leap ahead. It is so thin, light and powerful, once you hold one in your hand you will understand what a tremendous advancement this is,” said Schiller.

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 percent 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 2.19 percent to $519.17 after the announcement.

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