UPDATED 16:20 EDT / SEPTEMBER 15 2020

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Apple reveals speedy iPad Air with 11.8B-transistor chip and refreshed smartwatches

Today at its much-anticipated “Time Flies” virtual event, Apple Inc. introduced a speedy new iPad Air model with a five-nanometer chip packing 11.8 billion transistors and announced a major hardware refresh of its smartwatch line. 

Notably absent from the event were Apple’s next-generation iPhones. Recent reports suggest that the devices will be formally introduced a few weeks from now.

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The new iPad Air, which is positioned at the midrange of Apple’s tablet lineup, mostly carries over the design of the previous model with the notable difference of a bigger screen. The company made space for a 10.9-inch display by slimming down the iPad Air’s bezels and integrating the Touch ID fingerprint authentication sensor into the power button. Also new: anti-reflective coating on the screen to improve visibility outdoors.

It’s worth noting that while Apple’s next iPhones didn’t make an appearance at the event, the processor powering them did. The iPad Air will ship with the same processor as the upcoming iPhones, a six-core chip called the A14 Bionic that packs some 11.8 billion transistors. That’s a 40% increase over the A13 Bionic in the iPhone 11.

The improved transistor density stems from the fact that the chip is Apple’s first to be made with a five-nanometer manufacturing process, which allows for smaller and more power-efficient transistors. To further boost performance, Apple’s engineers have thrown in a dedicated machine learning module. It has 16 cores that make it twice as fast as the machine learning module integrated with last year’s A13 Bionic chip. 

“Our architecture runs more instructions in parallel, resulting in great performance at lower power,” Tim Millet, Apple’s vice president of platform architecture, said during the Time Flies event. “And it integrates large, high-performance caches sized to meet the needs of the most demanding applications.”

In practice, Apple says, that the silicon improvements will add up to a 40% speed uplift for general-purpose tasks compared with the previous iPad Air and allow graphics to rendered 30% faster. According to the company, the new iPad Air is twice as fast as the nearest Android tablet.

The iPad Air will be available starting at $599. 

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The Watch Series 6, the latest iteration of Apple’s market-leading smartwatch, will also be shipping with a new chip under the hood. Its processor is based on the one in 2019 iPhone 11 and promises up to 20% faster performance without diminishing the 18-hour battery life Apple’s smartwatches have offered so far.

The extra processing power is used to support, among other things, an expanded sensor array. There’s an altimeter for measuring elevation and a pulse oximeter that alerts the user if their blood oxygen level drops too much. The pulse oximeter measures oxygen levels by shining a light on the user’s wrist and then analyzing light reflected back by blood cells under the skin.

“Series 6 also captures periodic background readings and stores them in your Health app,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. “So if you wear your Apple Watch to bed, it can record background measurements while you sleep” to provide more detailed health information.

Externally, the Watch Series 6 closely resembles its predecessor. But the screen is 2.5 times brighter to ease outdoor use, the same goal Apple had in mind with the anti-reflective coating on the new iPad Air.

The Watch Series 6 will be available starting at $399.

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On the occasion, Apple is refreshing the entry-level products in both its watch and tablet lineups. The new entry-level Watch Series SE is priced over 25% lower than the Watch Series 6, at $279, and features a nearly identical design as Apple’s flagship smartwatch model from last year but with a faster chip. Apple’s new budget iPad, in turn, offers a 10.2-inch display and 2019-era A12 processor at a starting price of $329.

“Building on the success of the updated iPhone SE, which was released earlier this year, the new Apple Watch SE gives consumers a cheaper alternative to the Series 6, while still packing a punch in its hardware,” Ru Bhikha, a mobile expert at U.K. price comparison service Uswitch Ltd., told SiliconANGLE. 

Services, which have emerged as an important component of Apple’s business in recent years, not unexpectedly were also a part of the event. Apple formally announced its rumored Apple One subscription bundle as well as the Fitness+ service, which will offer users access to recorded fitness classes for $9.99 a month. 

Images: Apple

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