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.
The iPad's share of tablet Web traffic edged up in May. The others are going nowhere.
FORTUNE -- Based on Web usage, the tablet market in North America still looks like Apple and the 13 dwarfs.
The chart above was posted Monday by Chitika, a mobile ad networks that runs about 4 billion spots per month across 300,000 websites in the U.S. and Canada and -- shades of the N.S.A. -- collects MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jun 24, 2013 12:07 PM ET
According to ComScore, Kindle Fire outsells Samsung's Galaxy tablets 4 to 1 in the U.S.
FORTUNE -- One of the surprises in ComScore's chart-packed Mobile Future in Focus "webinar" Wednesday was the relative sizes of the orange Amazon (AMZN) and red Samsung bands in the chart above.
Apple (AAPL) maintained its position as the No. 1 tablet manufacturer, but in battle for dominance among the Android tablet makers in the U.S. market -- MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Mar 21, 2013 7:01 AM ET
This assumes you believe that iPads and Kindle Fires are personal computers
FORTUNE -- Market researchers at Canalys made headlines Wednesday when they reported that Apple (AAPL) was the world's No. 1 personal computer manufacturer in Q4 2012 with shipments of 27 million PCs -- almost twice as many as No. 2 Hewlett-Packard (HPQ).
It was a finding that flew in the face of the "Apple is doomed" meme, and only makes sense if you MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Feb 7, 2013 5:46 AM ET
According to Chitika, the iPad has recovered somewhat from its post-Christmas dip
FORTUNE -- There was some consternation among Apple (AAPL) investors in early January when the Chitika Ad Network -- which sells data about the online activities of hundreds of millions of users to its advertising clients -- published a version of the chart at right. It showed the iPad's share of North American tablet Web traffic dropping 7.14% in MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Feb 6, 2013 8:29 AM ET
Calls Apple's iPad mini the "must have gift" of the year
FORTUNE -- "The iPad mini is a game changer," writes Millennial Media's Matt Gillis in a blog post Monday.
"Every holiday season there seems to be one particular item that stands out as the 'must have gift' of the year," he writes, "and in 2012, early figures lead us to believe that this could be the iPad Mini. Truth be told, MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Dec 10, 2012 12:34 PM ET
The holiday shopping news for Amazon was not quite as awful as it seemed
FORTUNE -- There was much gnashing of teeth at Amazon's (AMZN) Seattle headquarters when IBM (IBM) reported the results of its Benchmark analysis of Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales last month.
Not only did Apple's (AAPL) iPad dominate with 88.3% of sales made on tablets, but the Kindle Fire's miserable share (2.4%) was even smaller than Barnes & MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Dec 10, 2012 8:31 AM ET
When you're selling a device at cost you can't really make it up in volume
FORTUNE -- From the start, Amazon's (AMZN) plan for the Kindle family of tablets and e-readers was to sell a compelling device at or below cost that would direct customers to Amazon's online stores.
"We want to make money when people use our devices," CEO Jeff Bezos often says, in a remark widely seen as directed at MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Nov 27, 2012 8:43 AM ET
Also: Jeff Bezos reveals the Kindle Fire HD and Paperwhite aren't profitable; Larry Ellison eyeing AEG?
Apple likely to unveil "iPad Mini" at October 23 event [ALLTHINGSD]
As AllThingsD reported in August, Apple will hold a special event this month, at which it will showcase a new, smaller iPad. People familiar with Apple's plans tell us that the company will unveil the so-called "iPad mini" on Oct. 23 at an invitation-only event.
Kindle Fire HD MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Oct 11, 2012 2:56 PM ET
Amazon's latest tablet has received mostly positive reviews. Should it?
FORTUNE -- When the first Kindle Fire arrived last year, some critics and users were quick to judge. The hardware could have been faster and better designed, the software less spastic. And where were the volume buttons?
Fast-forward a year or so and there's a slew of new Kindles to buzz over. The first to arrive, the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD, is MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Sep 19, 2012 3:10 PM ET
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