New iPads short on 'wow'
Apple's faster, slimmer iPads come with modest improvements, such as a fingerprint sensor, but some analysts say it offers few other features to wow consumers ahead of a holiday shopping season expected to be swamped by mobile devices.
At a launch event yesterday, chief executive Tim Cook called Apple's new line-up, which includes a new iMac computer with a "5K retina" or high-end display, the company's best ever. But analysts say Apple may struggle to arouse the same passion for its tablets as in past years among consumers faced with an abundance of handheld, touch-screen devices.
"I've got to be honest and say, the only impressive thing was the 5K retina display on the iMac," said Gartner analyst Van Baker, who attended the show at Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, California. "The other things we saw [included] just iterative improvements on the iPad."
Marketing chief Phil Schiller called the larger tablet the world's slimmest and described several new features such as an anti-reflective screen. He also confirmed the inclusion of the "Touch ID" sensor, already available on the latest iPhones.
Pre-orders start Friday for the larger iPad Air 2, priced at $499 and up, with shipping beginning next week. The smaller iPad Mini 3 will be about $100 cheaper.
The new iMac, which sports the new "Yosemite" operating system, will go for $2 499.
Tablet sales are set to rise only 11% this year, according to tech research firm Gartner, compared to 55% last year, even as smartphone sales continue to soar and personal computer sales are waning.
Tablet sales for Apple, which defined the category with the iPad just four years ago, have fallen for two straight quarters. Investors remain focused on the iPhone, Apple's main revenue generator, but a prolonged downturn in iPad sales would threaten about 15% of the company's revenue.
The new iPads will go up against recently introduced tablets from Amazon.com and Google in coming months. Shares of Apple slid 1% to $96.57 shortly before the close.
Apple also said it will launch its new electronic payments service on Monday, after the iPhone maker signed up another 500 banks to support a feature that competes with eBay's PayPal and other online systems.
Cook said developers were beginning to design apps for its upcoming Watch.
Apple last month introduced the Watch, its first new device since the iPad in 2010. The company's entry into the rapidly expanding wearable computing arena will be available only from 2015, but Cook said software development kits for the device will be available from November.
Missing on Thursday was a larger, 12-inch-plus iPad, the subject of industry speculation ahead of Apple's event.
"It is disappointing, particularly to enterprise buyers, that there wasn't a 12.9-inch iPad model," said Forrester Research analyst JP Gownder. "To return iPad to high growth, form factor innovation will be required. We'll have to wait until 2015 to see if Apple addresses this issue."
Apple's new iPad Air 2, announced on Thursday, will allow subscribers to switch wireless carriers much more easily, by swiping an icon across the screen of the device.
The feature, available thanks to a neutral Apple SIM card installed in the device, will allow customers to sign up for short-term service plans and switch carriers using their iPad, the company said.
The SIM card supports AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint high-speed networks. For service from the largest US carrier, Verizon Wireless, customers need to install a separate Verizon SIM card.
The feature allows customers to switch carriers based on their monthly needs, like bigger data buckets, more reliable connections or cheaper prices. Subscribers travelling can also plug into international carriers' networks and purchase temporary contracts through the iPad, the company said.