Leaner, meaner iPad faces tough competition

Apple introduced a faster, slimmer iPad Air 2 last night, tacking on modest improvements such as a fingerprint sensor to its mainstay tablet in time for what is expected to be a hotly contested Christmas market for mobile devices.

Pre-orders start today for the larger iPad Air 2, priced at $499 (€389) and up, with shipping beginning next week. The smaller iPad mini 3 will be $100 cheaper.

Marketing chief Phil Schiller, calling the larger tablet the world’s slimmest, described several new features such as an anti-reflective screen and confirmed the inclusion of the Touch ID sensor, already available on the latest iPhones.

Apple may struggle, however, to arouse the same passion for tablets as in past years, among consumers faced with an abundance of handheld touchscreen devices.

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 wane.

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 and Google in coming months.

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’ PayPal and other online systems.

Also in last night’s line-up was a new iMac with a ‘retina’, or high-end, display.

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