FORTUNE -- If you're the undisputed tablet market leader, how do you one-up yourself? Redesign your bestselling product so that it's faster, thinner, and lighter and give it a name that screams "change."
That's what Apple (AAPL) did with the iPad Air. The 9.7-inch tablet, which began shipping late last week, now weighs 1 lb and is just 0.29 inches thick -- almost half a pound lighter and 20% thinner than last year's model. Pricing starts at $499 for the 16-gigabyte Wi-Fi version and $629 for the 16 GB version with 4G cellular network connectivity, going all the way up to $929 for a 128 GB version with 4G cellular network capability.
Over the years, Apple's industrial designers have approached the iPad somewhat gingerly, with some minor nips and tucks: a slightly thinner body here or flatter back there. The Air closely resembles the 7-inch iPad mini now, down to the diamond-cut chamfered edges -- and that's a good thing. Not only does this give the product line a more uniform look, it also takes care of minor design quibbles. The thick borders on either side of the screen are slimmer, for one.
The Air's new weight brings it within spitting distance of the iPad Mini's 0.75 lb. featherweight status, and the change is immediately noticeable. Although users are still likely to prop it in their laps or on a surface close to them, it also means holding it for long periods is much less of an issue.
Inside, the Air uses an A7 processor, the same chip found in the iPhone 5s. With 64-bit architecture, Apple says users can expect improvements in overall performance, but huge performance gains will become noticeable as more developers code apps specifically for it. While the previous iPad was no slouch with its brisk A6X processor, now everything on iOS 7, including the popular virtual brawler Infinity Blade III, hums along. For instance, all those whiz-bang animations, which make older model iPhones 4 and 4s struggle, are buttery-smooth here. Apps launch faster, and switching among them is lag-free. The faster performance doesn't come at the expense of battery life: I used the Air for several days and scored 10.5 hours of use between charges.
Still, given how competitive the market has become -- including incumbents like Apple's own iPad Mini -- the Air isn't the surefire purchase it would have been just two years ago. Depending on users' needs and preferences, a smaller tablet like the Mini might be a better fit. And Amazon's (AMZN) aggressively updated Kindle Fire line finally offers a viable cheaper alternative that weds capable, if somewhat less-polished software, with blazing fast hardware -- and at a cheaper price point than Apple, too.
That doesn't mean Air users will at be disappointed with their new, chamfered purchase. Likely far from it. But there are more solid tablet options for shoppers to consider before they spend the cash.
A first look at Apple's latest tablets.
FORTUNE -- If you're the undisputed tablet market leader, how do you one-up yourself? Simple. With serious upgrades to the full-sized iPad and iPad Mini.
This Tuesday, Apple (AAPL) introduced the iPad Air, a redesigned full-sized tablet with 9.7-inch display that takes design cues from the iPad Mini, including diamond-cut chamfered edges and thinner vertical borders. The "Air" moniker refers to the tablet's newfound lightness: MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Oct 22, 2013 5:15 PM ET
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FORTUNE -- Apple (AAPL) is expected to unveil new iPads today. As with all major product releases from Cupertino, rumors have been zipping around the Web in anticipation of today's announcement. A redesigned full-sized iPad with faster processor and iPad Mini with Retina Display both seem like a lock. But whatever else Apple trots MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Oct 22, 2013 12:43 PM ET
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FORTUNE -- Jumping on AllThingD's report that Apple (AAPL) has scheduled a special event on Sept. 10 to introduce its latest crop of iPhones -- a rumor endorsed Monday with a "Yep" from The Loop's Jim Dalrymple -- Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster has issued his predictions for Apple's 2013-2014 product line-up.
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FORTUNE -- A tech blogger could fill his or her days chasing the latest rumors about upcoming Apple (AAPL) products -- and as the more than two dozen links in the screen grab at right attest, many do.
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FORTUNE -- Stop me if you've seen this chart before, originally published under the headline Apple's iPad and the 13 dwarfs, but I couldn't resist posting it again.
Blame it on Evan Niu.
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The CEO of a key Apple supplier says the reporter tried to put those words in his mouth.
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The theme of Thursday's second-day headlines in the U.S. was that Pegatron is on a hiring spree, boosting its workforce 40% and anticipating that communications MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - May 9, 2013 8:50 AM ET
The Apple faithful are getting restless for new products.
By Kurt Wagner, reporter
FORTUNE -- As if a plunging stock price, slowing earnings growth, and customer-service woes in China weren't enough, Apple hasn't released a new product since October, when it released the iPad Mini. In three of the past four years, Apple has held a signature new-product event in March, but not this year. Were the company to wait until MOREApr 2, 2013 7:23 AM ET
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