Apple for the first time has fast-tracked the release of its new tablets - the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 - to mainland Chinese consumers, ahead of those in Hong Kong. The online Apple Store on the mainland showed that shipments for the devices would take two to four working days, compared to Hong Kong’s one to two weeks. An Apple spokeswoman in Beijing did not provide an explanation on the disparity in timetables. Hong Kong, mainland China and Macau are among the 32 countries and territories where the latest iPad models are being initially released, with pre-orders having started last Friday. The iPad Air 2 costs from HK$3,888, while the iPad mini 3 starts at HK$3,088 in Hong Kong. After introducing a major design overhaul last October for the iPad – the top-selling tablet in both the mainland and Hong Kong since it first launched in 2010 – it came as no surprise that Apple unveiled incremental improvements for new models last week. The South China Morning Post , through technology market insiders, was able to get hands-on testing of the 128-gigabyte versions of the Air 2, with its 9.7-inch display, and the mini 3, with a 7.9-inch screen. These large-screen tablets make a good proposition for productivity-focused consumers and within the commercial space Avinash Kalyana Sundaram, senior market analyst The company’s iPad launch strategy apparently follows the “s” model approach – additional refinements in between each year of significant redesign – already applied to the iPhone. For example, the iPhone 5s launched last year received a major upgrade last month. The new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus primarily feature larger screens, faster processors, much-improved cameras and more advanced software. That may be a reasonable product-release strategy for the iPad line since most consumers worldwide purchase tablets at longer intervals than they do smartphones. That is why there are still many consumers who use the iPad 2 released in 2011, which was a major upgrade from the original iPad launched by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in 2010. The thinner and lighter iPad Air, launched last year, marked the second important redesign of the product, which appeared to solidify its status as the best tablet in the market. Competition, however, is not far behind. Leading tablet rivals currently include Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 and Google’s recently launched Nexus 9, made by Taiwanese smartphone giant HTC. Tablet sales in mainland China, the second-largest individual market for Apple products after the United States, is forecast to reach 28.4 million units this year, up from 25.9 million last year, according to technology research firm IDC. Avinash Kalyana Sundaram, a senior market analyst at IDC, said there may be an aggressive growth opportunity for the iPad in the 12-inch screen category where the Surface Pro 3 and Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 are already positioned. “These large-screen tablets make a good proposition for productivity-focused consumers and within the commercial space,” Sundaram said. Close look at the features Both the iPad Air 2 and mini 3 come with Apple’s new iOS 8 mobile operating system, which recently had to be updated to the iOS 8.1 to fix a few bugs. They come with built-in apps including productivity programmes Pages, Numbers and Keynote, as well as creative apps iMovie and GarageBand. The new models are also supported by more than 675,000 apps on the online App Store designed specifically for the iPad. The main buttons of the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 feature Apple’s innovative Touch ID function, which first appeared on the iPhone 5s. The Touch ID allows users to set up fingerprint identification to approve purchases made on the iTunes Store and the App Store. Also like the 5s, both new iPad models are now available in gold, silver and grey. Apple has touted the Air 2 as the world’s thinnest tablet at 6.1-millimetres. It is slimmer than the 6.9mm iPhone 6. The iPad Air 2 also weighs 444 grams – lighter than the 478-gram iPad Air. That svelte profile was accomplished by fusing what used to be three separate display components – the cover glass, the touch component and liquid crystal display itself – into one. The new model’s display also has a custom-designed anti-reflective coating to reduce glare by 56 per cent, according to Apple. The iPad Air 2 is powered by Apple’s new A8X chip, which offers faster processing than the A7 chip in the previous year’s models. The iPad mini 3 retains the A7 chip. The more power-efficient A8X chip, along with the new M8 motion coprocessor and tighter integration with the operating system, allowed the iPad Air 2 to attain Apple’s 10-hour battery life guarantee. This passed the test even as the Post ‘s review included downloading movies, running various videos, opening graphics-heavy sites, web surfing, and using the Pages and Numbers apps. Apple has apparently given more support to the legion of iPad users who regularly use the device to snap pictures, taking advantage of the wide 9-7-inch high-definition display. The iPad Air 2 features a new 8-megapixel iSight camera on the back and improved 1.2-megapixel FaceTime HD camera in front. But for the average consumer, there will be no obvious difference between the performance of last year’s iPad Air and the new Air 2 even though technical specifications show otherwise. Even when held, the differences in weight and depth are not easy to spot or feel. Those who would benefit most from the iPad Air 2 are the consumers and business users still on their second-, third- or fourth-generation iPads. Getting faster processing online, more wireless connections, improved software, and a lightweight and slim design are definite reasons for an upgrade. Aside from the Touch ID feature, the iPad mini 3 also showed no discernible difference for this reviewer, who has been using the second-generation iPad mini with Retina Display for a year. In terms of value for money, the iPhone 6 Plus would pose more advantages than the iPad mini 3. The iPhone 6 Plus may have a smaller screen than the mini tablet, but it sports a faster processor, up to 128GB of storage and far more communications capabilities.