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New iPads: Is Apple just treading water?

(MoneyWatch) Last week's Apple event saw the release of two new iPads. And while they are incremental improvements -- akin to the "s" designation on the new iPhone -- the updates are marginal at best, especially considering the price.

Indeed, with pressure mounting even from Windows 8 tablets, Apple appears to be doing little more than treading water.

Apple unveiled two new iPads. The iPad Air takes its name from the fact that it's a full-size 9.7-inch tablet that weighs about a third less than the current generation -- down from 1.4 pounds to one pound even. It's also 20 percent thinner. That's not bad, especially for people who have no choice but to use their tablet standing up, like mass transit commuters. The iPad mini got a facelift as well, mainly in the screen department: It now sports a Retina display, giving it a higher pixel density than the larger iPad. And it weighs barely anything at all -- just .73 pounds. All of that is wonderful, but the mini also costs more than the model it's replacing. Apple raised the price of the entry-level mini from $329 to $399. A $70 price boost without any real extra features or capabilities? And the full size iPad Air stays firmly rooted at prices that range from $499 to $799. Apple clearly must have undisputed air superiority in the tablet market.

Well, not exactly.

We're surrounded by compelling alternatives to the new iPads, many of which compete on specs and features, while costing less in the process.

Consider the Android-powered Nexus 7, for example. Costing just $229 -- $170 less than the mini -- it has a 7-inch display and weighs 10 ounces, which is about 40 percent lighter. Sure, the screen resolution isn't Retina quality, but one has to wonder at what point price becomes a significant factor when tablet shopping.

Likewise, on the Windows 8 tablet front, Lenovo is readying the Miix2. It has the same 8-inch screen estate as the mini (albeit at a lower resolution) and weighs literally a few hairs more -- .77 pounds. But the price of entry will be just $299.

Or consider the Dell Venue Pro, another mini-sized tablet that weighs well under a pound and costs $299 -- for 32GB of memory, which is twice what the base mini includes for $100 less.

There's no denying that Apple has rolled out two impressive tablets, but it seems like they're still priced like iPads are the only alternatives in an empty field. That's less true every day, and it'll be interesting to see if Apple's tone deaf pricing will spur sales among Android and even Windows 8 tablet alternatives. What's your take? Sound off in the comments.

Photo courtesy Apple

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