Analysis

Apple's new iPad mini, left, and iPad Air. Click for more photos

New iPad Air, iPad mini photos

Apple's new iPad mini, left, and iPad Air. Photo: AFP

San Francisco: Apple's relatively low-expectation launch event in San Francisco on Tuesday still managed to produce a few incremental improvements to its hardware and software line up.

The new full-sized iPad, dubbed the iPad Air because it is 20 per cent thinner and nearly 200 grams lighter than its predecessor, at a mere 469 grams, will sell in Australia when it arrives on the shelves on November 1.

Apple's new iPad Air.

Apple's new iPad Air. Photo: AP

A new iPad mini, with a high definition Retina display touchscreen and considerably improved performance, will arrive later in November.

Apple appears to be recognising the stiff competition in the tablet market, but is seeking to hold its position as the technological leader with notable boosts to performance from the new A7 microprocessor introduced only weeks ago in the iPhone 5s. The new iPad Air and iPad mini are the first Apple tablets offered with 64-bit architecture in an effort to put desktop level performance into mobile devices.

While some in the audience of 300 media and industry identities invited to the event at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts on Tuesday felt the event was low key, the technical features in the new iPads are impressive and important to Apple's sales in the increasingly vigorous tablet market.

Veteran industry analyst Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies said he saw the raised performance levels giving the new iPads a significant advantage, as tablets continued to eat into PC sales, and apps became more demanding of processor output, particularly in mobile gaming.

Van Baker of Gartner said Apple was continuing to use its software expertise and innovation to sell its hardware. The number of iPad apps now in the App Store gave the company an advantage over its Android competitors.

Many of the 475,000 iPad-native apps now offered in the App Store had yet to be adapted to the new architecture, however. 

Baker said he felt the integration of mobile, desktop and notebook computing allowed by the Apple ecosystem was another major advantage, particularly as iPads continued to move into business and corporate spheres.

"Apple doesn't make a lot of noise about its penetration of the enterprise, but iPads are pretty much dominant now as bring-your-own-device (BYOD) continues its invasion."

Hence the improvements in the enhanced MacBook Pro also announced. It comes in both 13- and 15-inch configurations with high definition Retina display screens and the latest Intel microprocessors – the fourth-generation Intel Haswell Core processor in the 13-inch model and a Quad Core i7 "Crystal Well" processor in the 15-inch model.

The basic 13-inch model with a 2.4 GHz dual-core i5 processor with 4 GB of memory and 128 GB of solid state flash storage starts at $1599. The new 15-inch model starts at $2499. It comes with an Intel Core i7 processor with turbo boost speeds to 3.2 GHz, 8 GB of memory, 256 GB of solid state storage and a new graphics Intel Iris Pro graphics system. Both MacBook Pros are on sale in Australia from Wednesday.

The big shift here is in battery performance, which in both the new MacBook Pro sizes now promises to match the 10-hour life that had media experts extolling the latest, Haswell-equipped MacBook Air as "the best notebook, ever".

Simultaneously with the release of the new MacBook Pro line-up, Apple announced that Mac OS X 9.0 Mavericks, the latest version of its desktop and notebook operating system would go live worldwide for download from Wednesday – for free.

Mavericks has been around in various beta versions for some time and has been well received. It has many new and clever features, some refinements, others making work easier. For MacBook users the biggest plus may be a clear improvement in battery life that has allowed Sir Jonathan Ive to design the Pro thinner (down to less than 2 centimetres) and lighter, which seems to mean a smaller battery from which much less is now demanded by the computer and the operating system. 

Apple said the Macbook Pro will be build in the US with some imported components, an indication perhaps that the massive Chinese factories still employed to make iPhones, iPads and Macs are becoming too expensive.

No Mac OS redesign

After the release of the totally redesigned and minimalist iOS 7 many of us thought we would see Mac OS X similarly redesigned. It hasn't happened yet. Mavericks does a good bit more than Mountain Lion, but the user interface is much the same.

The newness is largely in the apps that swim in Mavericks – named for a famous Californian surfing beach. Maps and iBooks have been added – Apple Maps now over its birthing blues and operating competently on iPhone and iPad. And iBooks has been added to the desktop system, too. Apple also today released new versions of the iWork and iLife software suites, and again offered them as free downloads.

One of the best features of Mavericks is the cleverness of the integration of the apps with tabs and tags. There's a new tagging button alongside the Share feature that was introduced in OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion. Click it and you get a dropdown menu to name your tag, some coloured buttons and a list of category suggestions such as Work, Important and Home to store them under. Files and folders can be dragged and dropped between tabs; those you have created showing in the side panel of the Finder.

The new iWork suite of the Pages word processor, Numbers spreadsheet manager and Keynote presentation software has been enhanced by the addition of real-time collaboration – two or more users working on iPhone, iPad or Mac (and even a Windows PC) can work simultaneously online through iCloud on their creations in either of those applications. It is all done through a new unified file format in iWork.

This does not mean, as some predicted, that Mac OS X would come to more closely resemble iOS but that so far as those apps are concerned, they are platform agnostic. If you want to change a presentation built on your Mac in Keynote, you can do it through iCloud from your iPad or your iPhone, and then play it from your MacBook.

The iWork user interface has been redesigned as has that for Calendar in Mac OS X.

Also much changed at the apps within the iLife suite, iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand. They are now 64-bit, making them faster in browsing and editing. iPhoto has new tools and effects to manage both colour and monochrome images and, on iPads and iPhones, use gestures to handle slideshows, order colour prints and create and order hardcover photo books of your photographs from the Apple service just as you could previously from a Mac.

Both platforms now have a redesigned iMovie application with easier to use editing tools to add effects and change the playback speed of video files. I remain astonished that one can shoot, edit and publish a movie from an iPhone, but the simplified tools in the new iMovie are very capable. The small iPhone screen makes it a bit challenging, but the iPad is ideal, even for split screen and picture-in-picture effects.

Output of the result can be done from either device or a Mac through iMovie Theatre, or you can send your epic to the big screen in the lounge via Apple TV.

GarageBand for the Mac has been redesigned, has a new sound library and a drummer control that allows you to emulate one of a dozen or so top-line band drummers whose style has been licensed by Apple. The app has also been updated with an interface in tune with the style of iOS 7. And everything is integrated across all your devices and Macs through iCloud, even allowing users to start a song on an iPhone and pick up on the Mac at the pint they got off the tram and had to go to work.

If one Apple innovation was found missing from the line-up in San Francisco it was TouchID, the feature introduced on the iPhone 5s that allows unlocking the phone by the touching the fingerprint scanner. It didn't happen.  Maybe next time.

The writer travelled to San Francisco as a guest of Apple.