CUPERTINO, California - Apple, facing tough competition in the cooling tablet market, on Thursday unveiled a new line-up of iPads that feature its mobile payments system and include the fingerprint sensor unlock used on iPhones.
Apple also said at an event at its Cupertino, California headquarters that its mobile payments system known as Apple Pay would be operational Monday, with more banks and merchants on board.
The tech giant - seeking to regain ground in a tablet market increasingly dominated by the rival Android platform - said its new iPad Air 2 is thinner than its rivals, with upgraded graphics power and other features.
Unlike with smartphones, tablet owners tend to hold onto their devices for three or more years, creating pressure on manufacturers to come up with innovations significant enough to inspire upgrades.
"This should be enough to start getting the original iPad users to upgrade," Creative Strategies principal analyst Tim Bajarin said of enhancements delivered by Apple's newest tablet.
"I don't think it has any impact on the general tablet market, but Apple's numbers will increase as a result."
Android's low-price appeal
At 6.1mm, Apple said the iPad Air 2 is 18 per cent thinner than its predecessor and is "the world's thinnest tablet".
"It's so thin you can stack two of them and it will still be thinner than the original iPad," the company's senior vice-president of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, said.
The aluminium-body tablet uses a new A8X processor, and boasts up to 10 hours of battery life. It weighs 435g and has twin cameras capable of producing high-definition videos.
The new tablet comes with a more powerful processor that delivers livelier graphics, improved battery life and Touch ID, the fingerprint unlock system that Apple introduced last year on its iPhones.
Apple also upgraded its smaller tablet, called the iPad Mini 3, which will also have the Touch ID system.
Pricing will start at US$399 (S$508) for the new iPad mini, and US$499 for the iPad Air 2. Apple will cut prices for the current iPad models.
Apple chief Tim Cook said that more than 225 million iPads have been sold in the four years since the initial launch.
But in a tablet market that is cooling - research firm IDC says global sales will only increase 6.5 per cent this year, as compared with 50 per cent in 2013 - low-priced devices powered by the rival Android platform have been gaining share.
Consumer electronics titan Samsung is a leading maker of gadgets powered by the Google-backed, free operating software.
According to Strategy Analytics, Android grabbed 70 per cent of the tablet market in the second quarter, to 25 per cent for Apple, even if it remains the largest single vendor.
500 more banks for Apple Pay
Cook said the Apple Pay system - which allows iPhone and iPad users to tap their devices to pay at retailers - was adding participants.
"Just since last month, we have signed another 500 banks," he said.
Apple Pay has already reached agreements with payment processors like Visa and MasterCard, as well as a range of stores including Macy's, Sports Authority, Toys R Us, Staples and Whole Foods Markets.
Apple also announced its OS X desktop operating system called Yosemite was now available as a free upgrade for users of Mac computers.
The new system includes a feature called "handoff" to allow people to switch among Apple devices and continue a task such as writing emails.
On the desktop side, Apple introduced an iMac computer with a 27-inch display boasting image quality far better than high-definition televisions, and an upgraded Mac mini with a lower starting price.
"I actually thought the star of the show was the new iMac," Bajarin said, reasoning that the performance offered at the $2,500 price point was "a game changer" given the strong following Apple has with professionals in the video and photo industries.
The event at the Apple main campus was low-key compared to the theatrical debuts of Apple Watch and Apple Pay in a performing arts centre last month.
Apple said that in November, it would release a kit for third-party developers to tailor applications for Apple Watch, which is to go on sale next year.