London - On Tuesday night Apple launched its new iPads and talked about its latest laptops (“Lighter! Thinner! Faster! Cheaper!”) - but it was a software announcement that caught the eye.
From now on, the Mac OSX software is completely free for anyone who's bought an Apple computer since 2007. Other software - iMovie, Garageband and the productivity suite iWork, which is a rival to Microsoft's Office - were also updated and will now be free with a new Apple Mac. This is a remarkable change, and means Apple's operating software, like Google's, is now free. But beyond that, all eyes were on the iPad.
The first iPad was released three-and-a-half years ago but the fifth generation model will be crucial to Apple. Rivals like Samsung, Google and Amazon have been eating into Apple's market share. The iPad is still a big seller but to attract new users, the company needs to innovate.
Apple CEO Tim Cook and colleagues revealed the new models - full-size and mini - to an audience at the Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts, in San Francisco. At first he made jokes about rival companies not knowing where they were heading, which sounded defensive. But he quickly found his stride as the products and updates were announced.
The new iPad (on sale on 1 November) is called the iPad air, thanks to a redesign which matches the boxier, slimmer look of the iPad mini. It's lighter (454g) and thinner than last year's iPad, making it more portable. And it also has a much narrower rim on two sides of the screen, made possible by cunning software which recognises your thumb is resting on the screen and knows well enough to ignore it.
As more demanding apps and programmes are devised, the new iPad's powerful A7 processor will be tested, but for now it just makes everything move super-fast (graphics power is 72 times that of the first iPad).
The smaller, lighter iPad mini was also updated. It has the same 7.9in display as last year, but now features a Retina display - Apple's name for a screen so high-resolution you can't spot individual pixels in normal use - which was missing from the first generation product. It looks tremendous.
Rival tablets remain more affordable - Apple has increased the price of the new iPad mini to £319 (about R4 000) - but Apple has never courted the low end of the market.
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Though much is the same, the new design on the big-screener is a stylish improvement. The weight difference and smaller frame make a big difference. At first look and feel, the iPad air is the classiest, most appealing tablet available.
iPad mini with retina display
The new display is a real game-changer and makes all the apps look tremendous. It's a speedy machine and unquestionably more convenient to carry than any other tablet - full-size or seven-inch. - The Independent