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Apple iPad Pro, MacBook Air get some iPhone X magic, but challenges remain

Apple gives its iPads and its MacBook Air a makeover in a bid to get you to take them more seriously.

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Apple is betting the same design changes that helped the iPhone X captivate fans last year will rejuvenate some of its lower-profile products.

The iPad Pro on Tuesday received a heavy makeover, drawing in iPhone X elements like a slimmer bezel and integration of the Face ID facial recognition system instead of Touch ID and the traditional home button. It also includes the "Liquid Retina" display, first seen in the iPhone XR

The new MacBook Air got a few of the same tweaks, mainly the smaller bezels and body, as well as the sharper display. The Mac Mini got a new space gray finish and more horsepower. 

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The changes mark long overdue upgrades to product lines that have played important, but diminishing, roles in Apple's lineup given that iPhone sales generate the majority of the company's revenue. The changes to the iPad Pro mark the first significant design overhaul since that tablet originally launched in 2015. The MacBook Air hasn't had a major change in years, with only a chip upgrade last year.

Apple doesn't just want you to own one of its products -- the benefits and hooks really sink in when you go all in on its family of devices and services. With PC makers, led by Microsoft's Surface line, building sleeker and more attractive devices, Apple needed to step up.

"The new iPad and Macs include some very welcome changes that Apple owners will appreciate," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights. "I don't think Apple did enough to pull people from their premium Windows PCs to the platform, though."

iPad Pro's overhaul

Apple's iPad Pro gets its biggest makeover yet, with thinner bezels and the addition of Face ID. The smaller iPad Pro gets a larger display at 11 inches in the same body, while the 12.9-inch model gets a smaller body that's close in size to the standard 8.5 by 11-inch sheet of paper. Apple said the larger iPad Pro has 25 percent less volume. 

The company hopes the changes will get you excited about tablets again. 

"The iPad is a magical piece of glass that transforms into anything you need it to be," Apple CEO Tim Cook said. 

Exciting consumers about tablets is a challenge, with the whole category struggling for the past few years. Consumers have hung on to their older tablets — purchased when they were a hotter item — or spend more time on their larger smartphones.

Since the original launched in 2015, the iPad Pro has been presented less as a media device and more a tool on which you can create and share content. But it hasn't been a runaway success, partly because of the cost and because it lacked a lot of pro-grade software.

Apple also showed off a new version of Apple Pencil that charges wirelessly and magnetically attaches to the iPad Pro -- taking a page out of Microsoft's Surface Pro line. 

The previous iPad Pro did help reverse 13 quarters of consecutive declines, which ended in mid-2017 with a minor bump. In the last quarter, Apple reported iPad unit sales ticked up 1 percent to 11.5 million, while revenue fell 5 percent to $4.74 billion. The company is scheduled to release its fiscal fourth-quarter results on Thursday.

Apple iPad Pro 2018

The iPad Pro has Xbox One S-level graphic capabilities. 

Sarah Tew / CNET

In March, Apple unveiled a new iPad for the education market, but the cost of the device and Pencil accessory elicited skepticism about whether cash-strapped schools would invest in these tools.

The iPad Pro isn't going to address those cost concerns. It starts at $799 for the smaller version and $999 for the larger 12.9-inch model.

MacBook Air returns

A new MacBook Air is finally here.

It comes with a Retina Display, while the frame around the screen is half the size, making for a laptop that has 17 percent less volume. It also includes a TouchID sensor in its butterfly-design, backlit keyboard. 

Mac fans have long wondered whether Apple would ever release an update to the Air, which has served an entry-level journeyman role despite the lack of changes over the years. It had also received little attention as Apple introduced the slim MacBook and the touchbar-enabled MacBook Pro.

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MacBook Air gets a new look. 

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At a starting price of $1,199, it's $200 more than the previous $999 entry-level Air. But the company said it's the cheapest Retina Display-enabled Mac in its lineup, and will serve as the gateway to Apple's other Mac products. 

"(Apple) seems to be pleased with the growth of the Mac platform and its ability to attract new users so they must think there is more headroom," said Ross Rubin, an analyst with Reticle Research. 

While the upgrades are nice, gone are the days when the Air played a leading role in Apple's product lineup.

When Steve Jobs introduced the Air in 2008, fans fell over themselves praising the sleek and lightweight design. Subsequent generations trimmed down the Air even further, forcing PC makers to respond with the short-lived category, "ultrabooks."

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The Mac Mini gets an update with a new space gray finish and more horsepower inside. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

"The MacBook Air redefined the notion of the modern notebook," Cook said.  

Ultrabooks are gone, but PC makers have flooded the market with thin, light and powerful PCs, boasting sharper displays and powerful processors.

On Tuesday Apple also introduced a new Mac Mini, with a space gray finish. The new Mini can go up to six cores for five times the performance of the Mac Mini. There's also the option for 64 gigabytes of memory and up to 2 terabytes of storage. Unlike the more svelte MacBook line, the Mac Mini also keeps the standard USB port. 

Like the MacBook Air, the Mac Mini's starting price jumped to $799 from the previous model's price tag of $499. 

The original story published at 8:29 a.m. PT. 

Update, 12:23 p.m. PT: To include an additional analyst quote

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