Apple today unveiled a revamped and renamed 9.7-in. iPad, calling it the "iPad Air" to reflect its thinner, lighter form and to evoke the thin MacBook Air laptop.
The company also refreshed the iPad Mini, the 7.9-in. tablet it launched a year ago, by adding a higher-resolution 2048 x 1536 display — dubbed "Retina" by Apple — and bumping up the price to $399.
Tuesday's event was Apple's first invitation-only presentation to be publicly webcast since October 2012, and just the fourth ever.
"This is the biggest step yet in the iPad ... our biggest leap " Philip Schiller, Apple's head of marketing, boasted about the iPad Air in his second stint on stage during the 80-minute presentation. "It's our biggest leap forward," he added, touting the new tablet's design and component mix.
The iPad Air is 20% thinner than its predecessor, the unnamed "fourth-generation" tablet launched last October, and weighs just one pound, 29% lighter than the previous model. "This makes it the lightest full-sized tablet in the world," said Schiller.
The new-new iPad Air boasts the A7 SoC (system-on-a-chip) — as most analysts expected, the same that powers the flagship iPhone 5S — that Schiller trumpeted as a "desktop class" processor for its 64-bit design. "This is a screaming fast iPad," Schiller added.
Carolina Milanesi of Gartner applauded the naming of the newest iPad. "Calling it the fourth- or fifth-generation was just getting too complicated," she said in an interview from Apple's event. "And the Air name makes a great deal of sense. [That name] has been very successful and it evokes a nice companionship with the MacBook Air."
The device itself, she said, had a lot to offer for the price, which Apple kept at $499 for a 16GB Wi-Fi tablet, $629 for one equipped to connect to a mobile network. "There's a lot that they're giving you," she said, ticking off the A7 SoC and its resulting faster performance, as well as the lighter feel in the hand, which she added should not be discounted as a selling point.
"New iPad Air noticeably lighter," echoed Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, in a tweet from the event's San Francisco location.
Ezra Gottheil from Technology Business Research also gave a nod to the iPad Air, but for a different reason. "I think they really needed to go thinner and lighter," said Gottheil in a telephone interview Tuesday. "Some of the Windows 8 tablets are kind of amazingly thin." And Apple needed to keep up with the Joneses.
The iPad Air will go on sale Friday, Nov. 1. Apple did not say anything about pre-ordering the tablet, an omission similar to that for the iPhone 5S last month, which also was not available for pre-order.
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