Apple iPad Air 2 is thinner and speedier than its predecessors

Apple took the wraps off its next-generation tablets at an event Thursday

Apple's iPad Air 2 is thinner and lighter than its predecessor, and should be speedier as well, thanks to a new processor.

It also has improved camera and security features, as does the iPad Mini 3, Apple said Thursday during an event at it's Cupertino, California, campus, unveiling the tablets at a time when the company's dominance in that market has waned.

The iPad Air 2, which has a 9.7-inch screen, is 6.1 millimeter thick, which is 18 percent thinner than the iPad Air. The Air 2 offers 10 hours of battery life.

The tablet has the all-new A8X chip, which is a variant of the A8 chip in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The chip is 40 percent faster and provides 2.5 times better graphics than the A7 chip in the iPad Air.

"We're able to deliver console-level graphics in your hand," said Phil Schiller, Apple senior vice president of worldwide marketing.

Other features include an 8-megapixel iSight rear camera and a FaceTime front camera. The iSight camera can take 1080p video that can be manipulated in multiple modes such as slow motion and time lapse.

Image and video manipulation tools such as Pixelmator and Replay will help users edit, repair and manipulate images, taking advantage of the faster graphics processor.

The iPad Mini 3 has a 7.9-inch screen, an A7 chip, a 5-megapixel iSight rear camera, a FaceTime camera and 802.11ac wireless.

Both tablets have the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, which lets users bypass passwords when logging into a smartphone or buying things online. The fingerprint technology is used with the Apple Pay payment system.

The iPad Air 2 is priced at US$499 for 16GB and Wi-Fi storage, $599 for 64GB and $699 for 128GB. A version of the tablet with cellular connectivity is $130 more.

The iPad Mini 3 is priced at $399 for 16GB, $499 for 64GB and $599 for 128GB.

Both tablets can be ordered now, with shipping set for next week.

The tablets are hitting the market at a time when Android tablet makers Samsung, Lenovo and Asus are gaining ground on Apple. Apple's tablet shipments declined 9.3 percent during the second quarter of 2014 compared to the same quarter last year, while overall worldwide tablet shipments went up 11 percent, according to IDC.

Apple faces further challenges as more users opt for larger-screen smartphones and hybrid devices instead of tablets. The iPhone 6 Plus, which has a 5.5-inch screen, is off to a hot start, and could hurt iPad sales. And Google's Nexus 9, the first 64-bit Android tablet, starts shipping next month.

IDC is projecting overall worldwide tablet shipments to grow by just 6.5 percent this year.

But Apple CEO Tim Cook put a -- predictably -- positive spin on the situation at the event, noting that the company has sold 225 million tablets.

"We've sold more iPads in the first four years than any product in our history," Cook said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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