SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple (AAPL) debuted its newest iPad models in time for the holiday shopping season Tuesday, announcing a new name and thinner body for its full-sized tablet, dubbing it the iPad Air, and giving the iPad Mini its high-definition "Retina" display.
Apple CEO Tim Cook bragged at Tuesday's launch event that the iPad has surpassed 170 million sales since its 2010 introduction, and accounts for more than 80 percent of tablet usage, but added, "This is just the beginning for iPad."
Cook then brought marketing executive Phil Schiller out to introduce the iPad Air, which weighs just 1 pound, the lightest full-sized tablet in the world, according to Schiller. The previous full-sized iPad weighed 1.4 pounds.
The iPad Air, which has a starting price of $499, receives the same powerful 64-bit A7X processor that debuted in the new iPhone 5S, which Schiller said will double the processing and graphics performance from the previous iteration of the tablet computer. Apple will continue to sell the iPad 2 with a starting price of $399.
The iPad Mini receives the Retina display that is already offered on full-sized iPads and some Mac products, and also receives Apple's new 64-bit processor. The new screen arrives with a price bump for the iPad Mini, which will now start at $399; the previous iPad Mini started at $329, and it will receive a $30 discount to a starting price of $299.
The iPad Air will debut Nov. 1 and the new iPad Mini will arrive later in the month, and both will be offered in two color options: silver and white, and space gray and black.
Cook kicked off the event Tuesday morning by praising the company's recent iPhone launch and iOS update, and discussing the company's vision for its Mac line of personal computers.
"We have a very clear direction and very ambitious goal" with Macs, Cook said before ceding the stage to software executive Craig Federighi, who provided more details on Apple's new PC operating system, called Mavericks in honor of the Bay Area surfing spot.
Federighi showed off the new operating system, focusing on its ability to extend battery life and use memory more efficiently to run the system faster. Federighi also announced that Mavericks will be provided for free, a new twist from Apple, and will be available for download starting today on Macs dating back to 2007.
Schiller followed Federighi on the stage to continue discussing Apple's PC line, beginning with updates for the MacBook Pro line of laptops. The 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro models will be juiced up with new Intel (INTC) chips, and both received a $200 price cut, starting at $1,299 and $1,999, respectively. The two laptops will be available starting today.
Schiller also announced new details about Apple's high-powered desktop PC, the Mac Pro, which was previewed at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference last June along with Mavericks, which has been in beta testing since then. Mac Pro will have a new generation Intel Xeon processor with 4, 6, 8 or 12 cores and the fastest memory ever in a Mac, with capability of up to 64GB. The Mac Pro, which will be assembled in the United States, will only have flash storage, eschewing hard drives for up to 1TB of flash storage, and will sell for $2,999 and up.
Eddy Cue was next up in Apple's executive parade, showing off new options in Apple's popular professional software offerings iMovie, iPhoto, Garage Band and the iLife and iWork suites, which received updates to match Apple's new mobile and PC operating systems. The programs will be offered free with the purchase of any new Apple device, and previous owners can update their software for free starting today.
The Cupertino company announced Tuesday's event last week with an invitation that included the tagline, "We still have a lot to cover." The event takes place just more than a month after Apple held a similar event to launch two new iPhones, the 5S and 5C, and one day short of the anniversary of its last iPad launch event.
"I'm kind of expecting what the rumor mill is expecting -- we know about the new Mac Pro, Mavericks, new iPads," Gartner analyst Van Baker said while waiting outside the Yerba Buena Center on Tuesday. "It's another step along the way. I don't expect anything earth-shattering, but it's Apple continuing to improve their product line to keep ahead of the market."
Baker added that he expected the new iPads to continue Apple's path of providing tablet devices that perform only the consumers' desired functions, instead of seeking to replace laptops and other computing devices.
"I think the introduction of the new iPad today will widen the gap between the hybrid and the tablet," Baker said, referring to the difference between tablet devices like the iPad and other devices from Microsoft and others that try to do "several things at once."
"This will accentuate the difference between those two types of devices. People don't want converged devices, they want discrete devices, which means those optimized for what they're supposed to be."
About 200 people lined up outside the venue by 9 a.m. Pacific time Tuesday morning, an hour before the event was scheduled to begin. On a foggy morning, those awaiting entry were flanked by television satellite trucks, Apple security and the company's public relations troops, but the crowd was fairly quiet and subdued, as zany antics seen ahead of previous events were absent.
As is typical when Apple prepares to launch a device, the company's online store was shuttered Tuesday morning as Apple executives prepared to take the stage.
"Can't wait to get underway. Having fun backstage," Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted about 40 minutes before the event was scheduled to start.
In 2012, Apple introduced the iPad Mini, which measures just short of 8 inches diagonally and competes with popular smaller tablets such as Google's (GOOG) Nexus 7 and Amazon's Kindle Fire. Apple also surprised observers by introducing a fourth-generation full-sized iPad just seven months after announcing the earlier iteration of the tablet, and the company sold 3 million tablets in the first thee days of availability.
While the majority of Apple's profits come from the iPhone, the iPad has provided a steady flow of income since its introduction in 2010, though the company has faced increasing competition as tablets challenge personal computers for consumer supremacy. Apple sold a record 22.9 million iPads in the fourth quarter of 2012, when it launched the iPad Mini just before the holiday shopping season, but sales have dipped since: Apple sold 19.5 million iPads in the first quarter of 2013 and 14.6 million in the second quarter, a year-over-year decline from 17 million sales in the second quarter of 2012.
In 2013, Apple's market share in tablets dropped below 50 percent for the first time since the iPad originally launched, according to tracking company IDC, as cheaper tablets based on Google's Android operating system have proliferated. The market is still booming, though: IDC expects more tablets shipments than PCs this holiday season for the first time.
Apple stock, which has fallen from heights of more than $700 a share in 2012, is approaching its highest levels of 2012 as the holiday shopping season nears: Shares closed at $521.36 Monday, the highest closing price for Apple since Jan. 10, and reached that high again late in the event before declining after Cook left the stage. At 11:30 a.m. Pacific time, a few minutes after the event ended, shares were selling for $514.95.
Staff writer Troy Wolverton contributed to this report. Contact Jeremy C. Owens at 408-920-5876; follow him at Twitter.com/jowens510.