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iPad Air 2 announced with Touch ID fingerprint sensor and 'world's thinnest' body, available for $499 next week

Apple's flagship tablet gets a new display, a faster processor, and new camera tricks

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Apple is introducing the iPad Air 2, a new version of its wildly popular tablet with a Touch ID fingerprint sensor and an even thinner body. The new tablet has the same look as its predecessor but is only 6.1mm thick — down from 7.5 mm on the original iPad Air, an 18 percent reduction. This new model will also be the first iPad available in gold.

The Air 2 has the same 9.7-inch display size as its predecessors, but that display should now look even nicer. The LCD, glass, and touch sensor are now all optically bonded, so there are no longer any air gaps between then. On top of that, Apple's put an anti-reflective coating on the glass that it says will reduce reflections by 56 percent, making it much easier to read in daylight.

Aside from slimming the tablet down even farther — enough to let it take the title of "world's thinnest tablet," according to Apple — perhaps the most notable update here is the addition of Touch ID. This is the first time that Apple has put Touch ID on a tablet, and now that developers are able to tap into the sensor to allow authentication and payments within apps, its addition should become increasingly useful. Apple also says that Touch ID on the iPad Air 2 will let you use Apple Pay for purchases within apps and for physical goods, though it's not clear if that means you'll be able to use it in stores or just to make purchases online.

Apple is also significantly updating the iPad's camera for the Air 2. It's jumping up to an 8 megapixel sensor with 1.12 micron pixels and a lens with an f2.4 aperture. It's able to record 1080p video and slow-motion video, camera panoramas, take photos in burst mode or time lapse mode — all of which have been previously introduced on iPhones. The front camera has a new sensor too and a larger aperture of f2.2.

The A8X processor makes it 40 percent faster than the original Air

The Air 2 uses Apple's new A8X processor, a modified version of the chip inside the iPhone 6 that's meant to be a bit more powerful. It's a 64-bit chip and Apple says it's "40 percent faster" than the original iPad Air, which was running on the A7. The new tablet is also said to have 180x the graphics performance of the original iPad. Apple's M8 motion coprocessor, which can track your steps and other movement, also makes the jump from the iPhone 6 into the iPad Air 2.

Apple says that the tablet will have a battery life of 10 hours. It's also adding support for 802.11ac Wi-Fi, a relatively new standard that offers much faster speeds. It'll come running iOS 8.1, which was also announced today and includes a number of minor additions. One final, minor oddity: Apple has removed the mute switch that's been on every prior iPad.

The tablet will be offered in gold, silver, and gray beginning at $499 for a 16GB, Wi-Fi only model. Apple is also offering models with additional storage, selling 64GB for $599 and 128GB for $699. A version of the tablet with LTE is also available, with each model being sold at a $130 premium to the Wi-Fi version.

Those LTE models also have one unexpected and nifty trick: they come with what's being called an "Apple SIM" that lets the tablet switch between different carriers without requiring you to change the card out. For now, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile are all supported in the US, with Verizon notably absent. It's not quite obvious how Apple is pulling this trick off, but it sounds like it'll make buying a wireless plan and switching between carriers far easier than it's been in the past.

Pre-orders for the iPad Air 2 begin tomorrow, and they'll begin shipping out next week. The original iPad Air will remain available, with its price dropping to $399. Apple is also announcing a new iPad mini with a Touch ID sensor.

Read next: hands-on with the iPad Air 2

The new iPad is being unveiled on stage today at an Apple event in Cupertino, California. Though this is only Apple's second iPad Air, it's actually the sixth generation of the iPad. Apple introduced the Air name along with a new, thinner design last October. That tablet wasn't dramatically different overall, but it was significantly thinner and lighter, down 20 percent and 28 percent from its predecessor, respectively.

Despite being the most popular tablet around, Apple's iPad sales have been on a slow decline for a few years now. These annual updates continue to produce strong holiday sales for Apple, but without a major change to the product, it's not evident that the overall trend is about to turn around.

One way that Apple is reported to plan on addressing that is the introduction of a larger iPad with a 12.9-inch display, which is supposedly planned for next year. Until then, Apple is relying on the various updates it's unveiling today to propel demand. The gold color option is one of its more basic approaches, but the sheer quantity of tablets that Apple is now selling may be the biggest piece to this story. Apple now sells five iPads, which range in base price from $249 to $499. More importantly, two of those are brand new and two are just a year old, making these increasingly compelling options.