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New iPads, Macs expected at Apple's launch event

Last Updated Oct 15, 2014 8:23 AM EDT

Apple is expected to unveil its latest products, most likely an array of new iPads and Mac computers, at a launch event scheduled for Thursday in Cupertino, California.

Apple announced the event last week by sending out a cryptic invitation that said simply, "It's been way too long." But those who follow Apple closely can read the clues. "You can sometimes tell what Apple's going to have at one of these top secret events by who they invite," says CNET's Dan Ackerman. "They invited me, and I cover a lot of computer stuff, so you can assume they're going to have some updates to the Mac line. They invited people who cover iPads, in particular, so there could be an update to one of the iPad products too."

The latest product launch comes about a month after Apple announced its new iPhone 6 and its first wearable, the Apple Watch, at a high-profile media event. The iPhone 6 hit the market on Sept. 19 and quickly set a sales record with more than 10 million units sold their first weekend.

What new features can we expect to see in a next-generation iPad? CNET.com senior writer Shara Tibken says, "There's probably going to be new colors, such as potentially a gold version. We're also going to see the fingerprint sensor and some of the other features that have made it into the iPhone but haven't yet hit the iPad."

Ackerman agrees the "Touch ID" fingerprint scanner is a likely addition. "Last year we had the iPad Air, which is the thinner iPad, but it doesn't have all the features the latest iPhones have -- in particular, it doesn't have that fingerprint reader right on the home button that lets you log in and do a lot of security stuff using your finger, so [this year's model] could certainly have that, where you use your thumbprint to log in."

The new iPads are expected to run iOS8 and have an A8 processor, as well as possibly NFC (near field communication) technology, which enables the company's new digital payment system called Apple Pay -- all of which are also found on the latest iPhones.

The company may also show off its Mac OS X Yosemite operating software for computers, which was first revealed at its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco in June.

According to a number of leaked photos purporting to show the next iPad Air, the new device will also be thinner than its predecessor, measuring about a quarter of a inch, compared to the current version of the iPad Air which is 0.29 inches thick.

There have also been rumors about a super-size version of the iPad with a 12.9-inch screen. Even if it's announced Thursday, CNET reports it is more likely that a bigger iPad won't be released until 2015.

Apple introduced its last tablet, the iPad Air, almost a year ago, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater in San Francisco.

Apple's first iPad, originally released in 2010, inspired a number of tablet devices from its competitors including Samsung and Microsoft. Since its release, more than 225 million iPads have been sold, but sales of the iPad have slowed over the years. Unlike mobile phones, which many people rush to upgrade every two years, iPads have not changed as significantly and owners seem content to stick with the models they already have.

"The industry kind of set its expectations wrong about iPads," Gartner analyst Van Baker told CNET. "Everyone assumed the tablet was kind of like the phone, so the upgrade cycle would be like the phone. That's not true."

While Apple remains number one in tablet market share, it's seen its dominance slip. According to industry analyst IDC, at the beginning of 2012, iPads made up 68 percent of tablet sales; as of last quarter, their market share had dropped to about 27 percent.

However, Apple's CEO Tim Cook said in July that he's "bullish" about Apple's future in the tablet market, according to CNET. "We still feel the category as a whole is in its early days, and there's still significant innovation that can be brought to the iPad, and we can do that," he said.

You can follow CNET's live blog of the Apple event here beginning Thursday at 1 p.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific.