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Apple's new iPads and Retina iMac: 'Empty calories' or nutritious adds to portfolio?

Gregg Keizer | Oct. 17, 2014
With selective price cuts, Apple preps for holidays with a phone-tablet-PC line-up that covers all the bases, say analysts.

ipadair2 gold

Apple today unveiled the 9.7-in. iPad Air 2 and the smaller 7.9-in. iPad Mini 3, both revisions of their predecessors, with the new Mini getting the shortest shrift on stage time and changes.

The 80-minute presentation seemed long for what Apple had to announce, said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, who noted that the first half hour was spent recapping the launch of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and providing updates on previously-announced news -- Apple Pay will roll out Monday, for example.

"Apple has the right to spin it how they want, but this was pretty empty calories," said Gottheil of the event.

"I think that's too harsh," countered Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. "People are saying, 'They haven't pushed the envelope [on tablets] today,' but maybe it's not the right time. There's nothing wrong with the line-up, and I think there was enough here for an upgrade perspective."

The new iPads were Exhibit A for Gottheil: Although Apple synced them to the iPhone line by adding a Touch ID fingerprint scanner under the Home button and offering gold-toned models, it retained their forerunners' display resolutions and made the most out of the continued whittling of the Air's form factor.

"This is the thinnest iPad we have ever made," said Philip Schiller, Apple's chief of marketing, of the iPad Air 2. Schiller said the tablet measures 6.1mm, 18% thinner than last year's original iPad Air.

Thursday's event was live-streamed, the third consecutive for Apple's iPad introductions, and the first since the fiasco of last month's webcast of the iPhone 6 debut. Unlike that broadcast, which was plagued by a host of problems, today's went smoothly for the most part, although at one point Computerworld lost the audio and the video temporarily froze.

The new iPad Air 2 boasts a 64-bit A8X SoC (system-on-a-chip) -- as most recent rumors maintained -- that was a slightly tweaked version of the A8 that inhabits the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Schiller trumpeted speed increases -- a 40% faster CPU, a graphics processor 2.5 times faster -- over the A7 SoC in 2013's iPad Air.

The Cupertino, Calif. company also duplicated its iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus storage changes of September for the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 today by keeping the lowest-priced tablet models at 16GB, but doubling the amount of storage space for the mid- and top-tier devices to 64GB (from 32GB last year) and 128GB (from 64GB), respectively.

Apple retained its now-standard pricing for both iPads: The iPad Air 2 starts at $499 for a 16GB Wi-Fi tablet, $629 for one able to connect to a mobile data network. Meanwhile, the iPad Mini 3 begins at $399.


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