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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Apple breathes life into ageing line-up with new iPad Pros and MacBook Air

iPhone features like facial recognition added to iPads; the Mac Mini is back and the MacBook Air gets retina display

Apple refreshed some of its lower-profile products at a New York event on Tuesday, adding iPhone features like facial recognition to the iPad Pro and faster processors and better displays to some Mac computers that have not had a major update in years.

The company introduced new versions of the iPad Pro, its higher-end tablet that competes with Microsoft's Surface, with thinner bezels and more screen space, along with the face unlock system found on Apple's newer iPhones.

Apple said a new version of the MacBook Air, originally released in 2011, would feature a higher-resolution display and thinner bezels, hitting stores on November 7.

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The company also said the Mac Mini, a small desktop that customers provide their own display and accessories for, would feature more processing power and memory capacity and start at $799.

Apple introduced new iPhones and Apple Watches last month, but the older product lines accounted for $45 billion in sales in the most recent fiscal quarter. In comparison, iPhones brought in revenue of $141.3 billion.

"They really wanted to show the world they haven't forgotten about the iPad and the Mac," said Mika Kitagawa, a senior principal research analyst at Gartner.

The Mac lineup has been in need of a boost.

In July when Apple reported its most recent quarter, the company had its worst quarter of Mac sales since 2010, with unit volumes down 13 per cent year over year. And iPad unit sales were up only one per cent versus a year earlier, and revenue for both was down five per cent from the prior year.

But some of that dip in Mac sales was explained by timing - Apple waited to release new Macs until July, when it had in previous years offered them in June. More broadly, Mac sales growth has outpaced the PC market and the iPad has been the most successful tablet in a market that turned out to be smaller than Apple hoped when it released the device in 2010.

While Apple has held prices down on some items like its entry-level iPads for schools, analyst had widely expected it to hold or raise prices for its new laptops and desktop.

Tim Cook speaks about the iPad's market segment against its competitiors. EPA 
Tim Cook speaks about the iPad's market segment against its competitiors. EPA 

With Mac laptops in particular, consumers increasingly use phones or tablets for quick tasks and only turn to a full-fledged computer when they need extra horsepower. Apple is unlikely to cut corners to drop the price of its entry-level laptops, analysts had said.

"With Apple, 'cheap' is always more expensive than everybody else," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies. Apple is likely to pick a price where "you don't feel like you're breaking the bank, but you don't feel like you're compromising your experience."

New products at a glance

iPad Pro

The new iPad Pro. Reuters
The new iPad Pro. Reuters

The iPad gets most extensive upgrade since 2015, the latest effort to revive a product that has suffered falling sales in recent years.

The iPad models in two screen sizes -- 11-inch and 12.9-inch -- that include key features from the latest iPhones. The updated tablets include slimmer sides that make the displays look nearly edge-to-edge, faster processors, an upgraded back camera, and Face ID for unlocking the device, making payments, and sending customised emojis.

Face ID, Apple’s 3-D facial recognition system, replaces the iPad fingerprint scanner.

On the software side, the iPads now have a gesture-controlled interface like the latest iPhones, so users can swipe up from the bottom of the screen to close apps, or swipe side-to-side to move between apps.

The new models are also notable for what they lack: a home button, headphone jack and the Lightning connector used on Apple mobile devices since 2012. The headphone jack is gone in favor of Bluetooth headphones like AirPods, and the Lightning connector has been abandoned in favor of a USB-C port, the first time such a connector is being used on an iOS device.

Besides the iPads themselves, Apple also announced a new version of its Apple Pencil accessory.

Mac Mini

The Mac Mini is back. Reuters
The Mac Mini is back. Reuters

The Mac Mini - the traditionally low-cost desktop computer that comes without a screen, keyboard, or mouse, is back from the dead with a redesign.

Originally introduced in 2005, the mini has been a popular device for server storage environments and home media centres.

In recent years, the computer hasn’t seen any notable updates and was last equipped with faster processors in October 2014. Like the MacBook Air, it got a major overhaul in 2010.

The new Mac mini is geared toward professional users and costs $799, up from $499 of the previous model.

It includes faster processors, making it five times faster than the previous model.

All Mac minis now use faster flash storage as well with capacities up to 2 terabytes, Apple said. It goes on sale on Tuesday.

MacBook Air

The new MacBook Air. Reuters
The new MacBook Air. Reuters

The MacBook Air is revamped for the first time in eight years with a sharper screen. Apple said it was refreshed with faster processors last year. But it hasn’t been fully overhauled since the current design was introduced by co-founder Steve Jobs in 2010.

The new MacBook Air includes the same 13-inch screen size as the previous model, but it is a higher-resolution Retina display, a feature that fans of the laptop have been requesting for years.

It also includes thinner sides around the screen, shrinking the device’s overall footprint. It has faster Intel processors, a Touch ID fingerprint scanner for logging on, a larger trackpad, and better speakers.

The new MacBook Air is 10 per cent thinner than the previous model and lighter.

It has the same 12 hour battery life as the previous model.

The Air’s aluminum casing is made from 100 percent recycled aluminum, Apple said.

It will cost $1,199 and goes on sale on Tuesday.