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What to expect from Apple’s iPad announcement today

Once again, all eyes in the tech world are on the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in downtown San Francisco, as Apple prepares to refresh its hyper-popular tablet.

In a press event scheduled for  Tuesday, 10 a.m. Pacific time, Apple is expected to unveil the newest iteration of the iPad. The event comes just one month after Apple revealed the latest iPhones, and completes an overhaul of the company's mobile product line.

But Apple's launch event also comes at a time when iPad sales are not seeing nearly the kind of growth they did in previous years. Part of that slowdown is a result of the number of consumers holding off on buying iPads until a new version comes out, but Apple is also facing serious competition from rivals such as Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., who have swamped the market with tablets of every size this year.

Besides the headline iPad reveal, there's a lot to look out for in what will likely be the last major Apple event of this year:

The five colours of the new iPhone 5C. STEPHEN LAM/REUTERS

The High/Low Strategy

Back when iPhones and BlackBerrys were the only game in town, Apple could afford to ignore the low-end of the smartphone market and instead focus on selling high-priced, high-performance smartphones. But thanks to the rise of cheap smartphones over the past couple of years, the company behind the iPhone has had little choice but to make two kinds of phones – cheap ones and expensive ones.

That strategy was on show last month when Apple revealed two new flavours of the newest iPhone – the expensive, powerful 5S and the cheaper, weaker 5C. This week, all signs indicate the company will follow suit with iPads. In the case of Apple’s tablets, the company is likely to introduce a new version of the flagship iPad and the smaller, less expensive iPad Mini. Both devices are likely to get screen, camera and processor upgrades, but as with the iPhones, Apple will try to draw a clear line between the two tablets in terms of functionality and price.

The home button doubles as a fingerprint censor. STEPHEN LAM/REUTERS


Perhaps the most significant new feature unveiled during the recent iPhone launch was the new fingerprint sensor. Some critics have complained about the new input mechanism, but that probably won’t stop Apple from including it on its new tablets. At a time when the distinction between Apple mobile devices and those of myriad other competitors is beginning to narrow, the fingerprint sensor allows the company to distinguish its products in a crowded market (at least until some of those competitors start copying the technology).


The Lowly PC

The bad news for most traditional computer manufacturers is that all signs indicate the traditional PC market is dying. The good news, at least for Apple, is that sales of Macs have not seen the kind of apocalyptic slumps the rest of the market is going through. Even though Apple’s desktop and laptop sales have not grown at nearly the same pace as tablets and smartphones over the past few years, they have done relatively well compared with most other competitors. And although iPads will take centre stage at Tuesday’s press event, Apple is expected to announce some upgrades to its more traditional products.

That could include new models of the MacBook Pro, as well as new information about the upcoming version of Apple’s desktop operating system, dubbed OS X Mavericks. The company is also likely to announce a concrete release date for the Mac Pro, a cylinder-shaped desktop computer unveiled earlier this year.

A journalist uses her Apple's mobile device during a media event held in Beijing, China. NG HAN GUAN/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

More Pixels

Since the introduction of the first iPhone and iPad, the mobile device industry has seen very few revolutionary changes to the now well established smartphone and tablet categories. As a result, companies such as Apple, Samsung and others have tried to keep their product lines fresh by making incremental upgrades to various hardware specifications, such as memory and processing power. The upcoming Apple event will likely be no different. Expect Apple to focus on display upgrades for its new tablets, and possibly other products. The company’s popular Retina display technology, for example, is likely to show up on the smaller iPad Mini, helping differentiate the tablet from myriad competing devices that have hit the market since the Mini’s introduction a year ago.

Apple may also make a splash by becoming one of the first computer companies to seriously invest in 4K technology. The new display standard, which has four times as many pixels as regular HD, has recently been embraced by TV-makers as the next big thing. However there is still very little 4K content to be found in the wild. By building a 4K-capable display for its traditional computers, Apple would not only separate itself from competitors, but boost the fortunes of myriad TV-makers who are still hoping 4K catches on.

Microsoft's Surface tablet has a cover with a built-in keyboard. DAVID MCNEW/REUTERS

A Smart Cover

As a habit, Apple announces its press event with a cryptic tagline. This time, the line is: “We still have a lot to cover.” Presumably, the tagline refers to last month’s iPhone announcement, and lets the world know that there’s more to come. But some observers have taken it to mean something else.

There’s plenty of speculation that Apple will try to differentiate its tablets from the crowd by introducing a new “smart” cover for the devices. Such peripherals are not new, and Apple has previously released covers that snap on to an iPad and double as a kind of stand. But there’s plenty of room to build on those devices.

Any kind of smart cover would deal a blow to companies such as Microsoft Corp. The Windows-maker has built its own tablet, the Surface, complete with a cover that doubles as a keyboard. Indeed, that cover is one of the key features that may make the Surface more appealing to some consumers. By building its own smart cover, Apple gets to take that particular differentiator away.

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