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Apple Unveils Slimmer iPad Air, Sharper iPad Mini

Tech giant has sold more than 170 million tablets to date, but faces growing competition from Android

Apple is aiming to beat back Android tablet challengers this holiday shopping season with two new additions to its iPad family: a fifth-generation model called iPad Air and a new iPad mini outfitted with the higher-resolution Retina screen.

The new 9.7-inch iPad Air is 20% thinner than the previous version, and weighs in at just 1 pound compared with 1.4 pounds — the lightest full-size tablet in the world, Apple senior VP of marketing Phil Schiller said at a press conference Tuesday at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. It features the more powerful A7 chip for “screaming fast” performance.

The iPad Air will start shipping Nov. 1, priced starting at $499 (the same as the previous full-size tablet). Apple is also continuing to offer the iPad 2, listed starting at $399.

The new 7.9-inch iPad mini includes the Retina display, with 2048-by-1536 resolution, which has been the most-requested feature from customers, Schiller said. The smaller model also includes the A7 chip, delivering up to eight times faster graphics performance.

The iPad mini will come in silver, white, space gray and black, available later in November starting at $399. Apple will cut the price of the previous iPad mini to $299 (down from $329).

CEO Tim Cook crowed about Apple’s tablet prowess, announcing the company sold its 170 millionth iPad earlier this month. “I can’t think of another product that has come so far and so fast,” he said. Apple debuted the first iPad in early 2010, amid some industry skepticism it would take off.

However, in the second quarter of 2013, iPads sales were 32% of the tablet market, falling from 60% a year earlier as Android-based devices from Samsung, Amazon.com, Google and others stole share, according to IDC. Cook zeroed in on usage stats, claiming iPads are used four times more than all other tablets.

Last month Apple introduced two new iPhone models, the multicolored 5c and higher-powered 5s, and the company sold 9 million of them in the first three days after they became available — the biggest iPhone debut to date. One reason for the higher-than-expected sales was that the new iPhones were available for the first time in China the same day they launched in the U.S., along with demand for 5s models, available in gold, silver or space gray casings.

Cook opened the event touting momentum for the new iPhones and the release of the redesigned iOS 7, noting that 200 million devices had updated to the new operating system within five days. At this point, two-thirds of iPhone users are on iOS 7, and Apple now has 20 million iTunes Radio users, he said.

Apple also announced a free update to the OS X operating system for Macs, dubbed “Mavericks,” available Tuesday. The company says boosts performance and battery life for portables and adds features including instant notifications. In the past, Apple has charged for computer OS upgrades.

Also free: The company is releasing free upgrades of apps for iLife and iWork productivity tools, available on iOS and Mac devices.

In addition, the tech giant introduced new MacBook Pro notebooks with 13- and 15-inch screens, which run OS X Mavericks and are priced below previous models, and higher-horsepower Mac Pro desktops.

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