Last year, the iPad Air and Retina iPad mini were big steps forward for Apple's tablet line. With no obvious gaps to fill in 2014, how does Apple follow its own act? With the iPad Air 2 and (to a much lesser degree) the iPad mini 3.
At today's launch event, Apple made it very clear which iPad it considers to be the flagship. After talking about the iPad Air 2 for 20 minutes or so, it threw in the iPad mini 3 as a 20-second aside. While two years ago, the iPad mini looked to be moving in as the new flagship, the scales have tipped back towards the 9.7-in model.
The iPad Air 2's biggest upgrade is a significantly thinner design. At 6.1 mm (0.24-in) thick, it's 19 percent thinner than the original iPad Air. To pan even farther back, Apple pointed out that two iPad Air 2s stacked on top of each other are still thinner than the original iPad from 2010.
At 435 g (0.96 lb), the iPad Air 2 is also 7 percent lighter than last year's model.
Touch ID is the second big iPad Air 2 upgrade. No surprise there, as this was a) logical, and b) leaked from here to Timbuktu. Like the fingerprint sensor on the latest iPhones, Touch ID on the iPad will let you easily secure your tablet, as well as make online Apple Pay purchases. It won't, however, work with the in-person (NFC) portion of Apple Pay.
With the iPad Air 2, the camera in Apple's tablet is moving closer to parity with the iPhone. The new model has an 8 MP rear sensor (last year's model was 5 MP) with ƒ/2.4 aperture and 1080p video recording. Apple says that the wider aperture allows it to let in 81 percent more light than the first iPad Air did. For comparison's sake: the latest iPhones also have 8 MP resolution, but ƒ/2.2 aperture.
The Air 2 also has a next-gen chip inside. The A8X is a variant of the A8 found in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Apple says that its second-gen 64-bit mobile chip has a 40 percent faster CPU and 250 percent faster GPU than the A7 found in the 2013 iPad Air.
The iPad Air 2 didn't get a screen resolution bump, as some rumors had suggested. Though it's sitting pretty with 2,048 x 1,536 resolution, Apple does say that it eliminated an air gap layer, which helped to make the device thinner. The screen also gets an anti-reflective coating that Apple says reduces glare by 56 percent.
As for that 20-second mention of the iPad mini 3, it was short for good reason: this is one of Apple's two most minor iPad upgrades (the 4th-gen iPad was also extremely minor). The iPad mini 3 has the same build, screen and chip as last year's iPad mini with Retina Display (renamed today as the iPad mini 2). The Mini 3's big – and pretty much only – addition is Touch ID.
Both new iPads are available in space gray, silver and – for the first time in iPads – gold. Pricing is the same as before, with the iPad Air 2 starting at US$500, and the iPad mini 3 starting at $400. The new iPads go up for pre-order tomorrow, and start shipping next week.
Perhaps just as important an announcement is that last year's models are sticking around at lower price points. Starting today, the iPad Air 1 can be had for $400 and the iPad mini 2 now goes for $300. The original iPad mini is even sticking around for $250. If you don't care about Touch ID, those could be pretty compelling buys next to the new models.
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