The tablet runs on an all new A8x processing chip and has 10 hours of battery life, Schiller said. It also sports the Touch ID fingerprint reader that Apple already offers on the iPhone. The iPad Air 2 will start at $499 for the 16 GB model. It now comes in gold, in addition to the current silver and "space gray" options. Apple also announced a new update to the iPad mini, which will also come in gold. It starts at $399.
Pre-orders will start Friday, and orders will ship by the end of next week. The price of older models of the iPad Air and iPad mini have also been cut.
New iPads were the top items in the rumor mill headed into the announcements -- even more so after Apple appeared to have accidentally published an official users' guide for the iPad that included references to an "iPad Air 2" and "iPad mini 3."
Cook opened the event with news on how the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, launched last month, were faring. According to the CEO, they're faring very well: The new devices triggered Apple's largest iPhone launch ever. "We've set a new high-water mark for the most orders taken," Cook said. "And I don't mean by a little. I mean by a lot. A whole lot."
As for Apple Pay, the new payment system Cook first introduced onstage last month, Cook said it will begin working in stores on Monday. He said Apple has added hundreds of bank, retail and other partners to support the pay-by-smartphone system and that it will also work with online purchases.
Apple also officially announced the release of its Yosemite operating system -- with a little help from comedian Stephen Colbert to demonstrate its mobile calling features. The update is available for free starting Thursday.
Also among the announcements: a new 27-inch iMac with a retina “5K” display that boasts seven times the pixels of a high-definition television. While Apple hasn’t dipped into the television market yet -- though many analysts and consumers have predicted it would -- the company did say that its display was every bit as good as a high-end television's. The iMac costs $2,499 and ships Thursday.
The company followed up with an update to its Mac mini, which hasn’t been updated since 2012. The new mini computer starts at $499, a $100 price cut from its predecessor. It is also available for purchase starting Thursday.
Still, the tablets were the stars of the show. The iPad launch hits as the once white-hot tablet market is coming back down to earth. Apple is still the largest tablet maker in the United States and the rest of the world, but its tablets are facing increasing competition from smartphones with larger screens -- including Apple's own iPhone 6 Plus. Tablet sales are also slowing down because, unlike smartphones, consumers don't feel quite as compelled to upgrade their tablets every two years.
"Some tablet users are not replacing a tablet with a tablet; they are favoring hybrid or two-in-one devices," said Ranjit Atwal, a research director at Gartner. The firm projects the tablet market will grow 11 percent in 2014. By way of comparison, the market grew 55 percent in 2013.
To deal with some waning consumer interest, many firms, including Apple, have looked to business users as potential customers to boost tablet sales. Apple announced a partnership with IBM earlier this year to help boost its growth in the business market for mobile devices. But it's a competitive space. Microsoft, which has long had a grip on business users, has focused marketing for its Surface tablet heavily on the enterprise crowd. And on Wednesday, Google introduced a new tablet -- the Nexus 9 -- that has an optional keyboard attachment for people who want to do "real work."
Apple shares were up as much as $97.69 per share during the announcement, but slipped more than one percent in late trading to close at $96.26.
Apple also gave a sneak peek into its next significant mobile operating system update, iOS 8.1, which aims to fix some of the biggest bugs that consumers have complained about with iOS 8, which was released just last month.
“When we put an update in the hands of millions of users, we get feedback,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering. The new update will be coming on Monday. Federighi said that it will address some of the top consumer frustrations with Apple’s new system, including the readdition of the "camera roll" photo album.