Looking to boost sluggish tablet sales, Apple on Thursday took the wraps off a pair of new iPad models–the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3–equipped with its Touch ID fingerprint sensors. And as expected, the updated tablets will come in gold, in addition to space gray and silver.
The Cupertino, California company introduced its fingerprint reader with the iPhone 5S last year. Extending Touch ID to the iPad will help broaden its new payments infrastructure, Apple Pay, which launches on Monday. The sensor plays a crucial role in the deployment of Apple Pay, using biometrics to verify users’ identities and reduce fraud risks for cardless transactions. But Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said Apple Pay on the iPad isn’t designed for in-store purchases, but rather for online shopping.
Measuring 6.1 millimeters in thickness, the new iPad Air 2 is 18% thinner than its 7.5-millimeter predecessor introduced a year ago. “Can you even see it?” CEO Tim Cook asked when showing off the new device on stage. Schiller declared the iPad Air 2 the “world’s thinnest tablet.”
The new flagship tablet also features a new 64-bit A8X chip, an antireflective screen that reduces glare by 56%, an 8-megapixel camera with new shooting capabilities, and faster Wi-Fi 802.11ac standard with WiMo that will deliver connections that are 2.8 times faster than the previous model. The processor performs 40% faster than its predecessor. Compared with the original iPad, released in 2010, the new iPad Air 2 is 180 times faster when it comes to graphics performance.
The built-in camera, with a f/2.4 aperture lens, is capable of shooting video in full HD, multiple photos continuously in burst mode, and panorama images.
The new iPad Air 2 begins at $499 for a 16 GB model, and the iPad Mini 3 starts at $399. In an effort to appeal to price-sensitive customers, Apple kept its older Air and Mini models and slashed their prices. The new tablets will be available for preorder Friday and begin shipping the end of next week.
Apple is hoping these upgrades will deliver a jolt to iPad sales. Once a product that flew off Apple’s shelves–and thought to be the future of the company–the iPad has been underperforming as of late. Cook said Apple sold more than 225 million iPads worldwide, and in its first four years, the tablet was its best-selling product in the company’s history. However in the last two quarters, Apple reported declining iPad sales, an 8% drop last quarter and 13% the quarter before that. Furthermore, Apple’s tablet market share is slipping. In the first quarter of 2014, it owned 37% of market share, down from 46% in the same period two years prior, according to data Parks Associates released on Wednesday.
Overall, the industry has experienced a growth slowdown. More than 60% of U.S. households with broadband already own a tablet. Apple is facing more competitors, especially those catering to budget buyers.
But Apple’s biggest competitor is really Apple. Consumers haven’t felt a desire to upgrade their tablets, which seem to be chugging along just fine after all these years. The iPad 2, which Apple launched in 2011 and seems a remnant of the past with its 30-pin port, is still the company’s most popular tablet today.
With its long-lasting tablets slowing upgrade cycles, Apple is hoping new features will win customers over. The gold iPad is clearly an ace up Apple’s sleeve. When the company released the iPhone 5S in gold last fall, it was undoubtedly pandering to the Chinese market, where Apple products double as a status symbol. Perhaps the new color, along with Touch ID, faster performance, and shooting capabilities, can convince customers to upgrade–finally.