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Apple unveils new iPad Air, but does anyone still care?

Apple yesterday unveiled its new and improved fifth-generation 10-inch tablet, the iPad Air at a San Francisco media event. The new model is a full one-third lighter and 20% thinner than the previous iPad, will have a larger screen and faster processor. Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller also announced that buyers will be gifted 20 free apps, which would normally cost more than $100. What's more, the company is throwing in free downloads of its newest desktop operating system.

But the giveaways underscore Apple's weakness: it is unable to compete solely on its hardware and its operating system like it used to. The tablet's incremental improvements in performance, portability and screen resolution — though sure to please fans — are fairly unremarkable and follow a path expected of any hardware maker.

To be sure, the iPad is still a market trend-setter, yet third-quarter sales of the device fell to 14.6 million units from 19.4 million units in the previous quarter and from 17 million a year earlier. And Android-powered tablets have already surpassed iPads in market share. Market researcher Strategy Analytics gave Android tablets a 67% market share with 28% for the iPad.

Moreover, Apple's draconian rules on what is permitted in the iTunes App Store, are driving developers toward the more dynamic Android platform. Google's Play Store now offers more than one million apps and commands 75% of all app downloads.

It remains to be seen whether CEO Tim Cook can make his premium products stand out once again, and whether promises of future leaps in innovation are just hot air.


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