Apple has launched its new generation tablet the iPad Air describing it as a giant leap forward.

The new device is slimmer, lighter, faster and more powerful than the previous model, the computing giant announced.

It weighs 1lb, compared to 1.4lb for the iPad 4, and is 7.5mm thin compared to 9.4mm.

There is also 43% smaller bezel around the edge of the screen.

The iPad Air will be available on 1 November in Ireland at a cost of €489.

Apple also unveiled a new iPad mini with a retina display, which will be available later in November.

They will both come in silver/white and grey/black versions.

Speaking at the Yerba Buena Centre in San Francisco, Apple CEO Tim Cook said "I couldn't be prouder of both new iPads."

He said he could not think of another product that had come so far, so fast, adding: "We want to help our customers create even more amazing stories, because we know this is just the beginning for iPad, and so we've been busy working on the next generation of iPad."

Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing described it as a "screaming fast iPad", with faster graphics and wifi access.

He described the iPad Air as "a whole new generation" and added "This is probably our biggest leap forward."

An updated operating system for Apple Macs was also announced at the launch.

Known as OS X Mavericks, it is available for download from today and will be free to all customers with a compatible Mac.

It gives an extended battery life, offering up to an hour longer web browsing on a single charge. This equates to 1.5 hours longer for watching iTunes films playback.

It also increases memory with a new memory compression function, allowing users to fit 6GB of data into 4GB of system RAM.

Competitive market

The new tablets will face stiff competition, with Microsoft, Nokia and Inc all plugging rival devices in coming months.    

Apple, which jumpstarted the tablet computing market in 2010 with the first iPad, has already come under increasing pressure from cheaper devices ranging from Amazon's Kindle Fire to Samsung Electronics Co Ltd's Note.

But while Apple is ceding market share to rivals, its superior library of apps and content should safeguard its lead for years to come, analysts say.

Longer term however, investors hope to see real device innovation from a company that has not unveiled a new breakthrough product in years.  

Tim Cook dismissed the competition as directionless.  

"Our competition is different: they're confused," he said. "Now they're trying to make PCs into tablets and tablets into PCs.

Who knows what they'll do next?"  

"We have a very clear direction and a very ambitious goal. We still believe deeply in this category and we're not slowing down on our innovation."