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Apple Launches iPad Air 2, Mini 3

CUPERTINO, CALIF. — Apple unveiled its latest iPads — the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 — hoping to reverse declining sales and market share in the global and U.S. tablet markets as overall tablet growth slows.

Both are the first iPads with Touch ID fingerprint scanning, both are available in three memory configurations instead of four, and all ship this week.

The company made its 9.7-inch iPad Air 2 18 percent thinner at 6.1mm for both the Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi/ LTE versions, reduced pricing on select memory configurations, stepped up processing power, enhanced both cameras, introduced faster LTE and Wi-Fi, and included Touch ID fingerprint identification for the first time to unlock the tablet and applications and pay for online purchases via Apple Pay through apps.

The Air 2 will be available in silver, gray and gold at prices of $499, $599 and $699 in Wi-Fi versions with 16GB, 64GB and 128GB versions. The 64GB and 128GB versions are $100 less than their predecessors. A 32GB version was dropped. The LTE/ Wi-Fi versions cost $130 more.

The third-generation 7.9-inch iPad Mini 3 had fewer enhancements, will be available in the same colors as the iPad Air 2, and will come in three memory configurations, down from four, by dropping the 32GB version.

The 16GB Wi-Fi iPad Mini 3 is priced the same as before at $399, but the 64GB and 128GB Wi-Fi models came down $100 in price to $499 and $599, respectively. The LTE versions will be $130 more.

The Mini 3 maintains its 5-megapixel main camera but gets panorama mode and time-lapse photography. The Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi/cellular versions are still 7.5mm thick; screen resolution is the same at 2,048 by 1,536 with 326 ppi; the cameras are the same at 5-megapixel/1080p with f/2.4 lens and 1.2-megapixel/720p; and the number of LTE bands remains the same at 14. The CPU is still the 64-bit A7.

The iPad Air 2 boasts more enhancements.

Apple made the tablet thinner by eliminating air gaps between the LCD, touch layer and glass. The process, along with a new antireflective coating, makes the screen 56 percent less reflective, lower than any other tablet.

The Air 2 takes advantage of a second- generation 64-bit A8X chip that’s 40 percent faster. The new GPU is 2.5 times faster for console-level graphics.

The main iSight camera has been improved to 8 megapixels from 5, and pixel size has grown to 1.12 microns though the aperture is still f/2.4. Video capture remains 1080p.

Other key main-camera enhancements include panorama mode, burst mode, time-lapse photography, and slow-motion video capture (at 720p/120 fps).

The front FaceTime camera is still a 1.2-megapixel 720p camera but adds larger f/2.2 aperture, burst mode, HDR, and improved face detection.

Battery life in Wi-Fi mode remains at 10 hours despite the enhancements.

To speed up Wi-Fi, the company added 802.11ac with MIMO to deliver throughputs up to 886Mbps. LTE speeds go up with the addition of 150Mbps LTE with carrier aggregation. The LTE models also incorporate more LTE bands than before with more than 20.

The iPad 2 Air maintains its predecessor’s screen resolution and ppi.

The company will keep the iPad Mini 2 and iPad Air but in two memory configurations instead of four and at prices reduced by $100. The 16GB iPad Mini 2 with Wi-Fi is $299, and the 32GB version is $349. The cellular versions are $130 more.

The original 16GB iPad Mini also stays and will be repriced to $249 for the 16GB version from $299, making it the lowest price iPad ever. THE Wi- Fi/LTE version is $130 more.

In other comments from Apple executives:

• CEO Tim Cooke said the first 30 days of orders of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus mark the biggest ever iPhone launch “by a whole lot.” The launch is also the first time that new iPhones have been launched on all three China networks, starting today.

• Apple Pay goes into commercial operation on Monday at retailers.

• A developers’ kit for the Apple Watch has been made available to expand the selection of apps available when the Watch is available in early 2015.

• The Yosemite version of OSX, unveiled earlier this year, is available today for free.

Apple’s global iPad sales slipped almost 1 percent during the first three quarters of its 2014 fiscal year to 56.7 million units from 60 million units, but units fell faster in the second quarter by 16 percent and in the third quarter by 9 percent following a first-quarter gain of 18 percent, the company’s financial reports show. The first fiscal quarter ended in January 2014.

Global iPad dollar volume through the three quarters fell 3 percent to $25 billion from $25.8 billion.

Apple’s global market share in tablets has also fallen, garnering only 26.9 percent of global shipments in the second quarter of this year compared to a prior-year 32 percent and 60 percent in 2012’s second quarter, IDC statistics show.

The iPad’s sales challenges come at a time when tablet sales are slowing globally and flat in mature markets. IDC has forecast global tabletshipment growth this year of only 6.5 percent after four years of double- and triple-digit percentage growth, with sales in mature markets such as the U.S. and Western Europe posting no tablet growth.

Ownership cycles are close to three years, compared with the two that IDC previously forecast, as users hand down their older tablets to kid, IDC said. Fast-falling laptop prices are also pressuring tablet sales, as is the growth of phablets with screen sizes of 5.5 inches and larger, IDC said.