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Apple Introduces Slimmer iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 3

It's slimmer and faster. But is it enough?

Apple introduced new, slimmer versions of its iPad line — the iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini 3 — to reinvigorate flagging sales of its tablet computers.

The new devices borrow features from its hot-selling iPhone 6, such as the Touch ID fingerprint sensor and Apple Pay in-app payments. Apple hopes that these — together with a new look — will be enough to spur people to buy an iPad this holiday season.

“Look how thin it is. Can you even see it?” Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said of the iPad Air 2.

The iPad Air 2 is 6.1 millimeter thin or about 20 percent thinner than the version it replaces and features a new A8X chip developed for the iPad.

After setting records in 2010 as one of the fastest-adopted consumer products of all time, sales of the iPad began slowing in 2013. The trend continued this year, with tablet sales off in the March and June quarters as compared with the prior year.

“It’s a little bit of a victim of its own success,” said Paul Semeza of NPD Display Search. “Growth was so strong for a couple of years there … a lot of the low-hanging fruit has been taken.”

Apple has seen its share of the tablet market erode, in part through cannibalization from big-screen smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Note, as well as from cheap alternatives.

Consumers have been slower to replace their iPads than their iPhones. That’s probably because the vast majority of tablet purchases aren’t subsidized in the same way that smartphones have been. AT&T and others have offered a discount if you sign a contract.

Peter King, an analyst with research firm Strategy Analytics, says the tablet market may be at an inflection point.

“The first four years of the industry have been for the consumer — it’s about the consumer buying devices to entertain themselves,” King said. “Eighty percent of tablet usage is done at home, on the sofa, in the evening from 7 to 10 o’clock.”

The next phase of growth will come from the Fortune 500 companies and from specialized markets, such as education, King said. Apple is already positioning itself to capitalize on this opportunity, through its partnership with IBM and its work developing a larger, 12.9-inch tablet, which is expected to become available next year.

The iPad Air 2 will start at $499 for 16 gigabytes of storage; the iPad mini 3 starts at $399.

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