Apple intros iPad Mini, upgrades existing devices–and, a surprise

Yesterday at its Special Event, Apple proved the rumors true by introducing an iPad Mini. The company also debuted an incredibly thin iMac (its optical drive is now a thing of the past) and a new Mac Mini with a very interesting hybrid-style hard drive. The company also talked about some new app offerings and, oddly, revealed the fourth generation iPad, which except for some major new additions is essentially unchanged from the third generation model it showed at its January event.

The big news–and the last item on the agenda–was the iPad Mini. From my article on examiner.com:

It has a 7.9 inch display, weighs in at just over a half a pound (0.68 inches) and is as thin as a pencil (7.2 mm, 23% thinner than the most recent iPad). Apple claims that it still offers 10 hours of battery life. It truly is a scaled-down version of the industry-leading tablet.

While it doesn’t have the Retina display like its bigger brother (its display is the same as the iPad 2–1024×768 resolution), it does offer 5 megapixel still and 1080p video cameras. Like the fourth-generation full-sized iPad just released, it too boasts “utltrafast wireless” connectivity. And, of course, this new device also has the new 9 pin Lightning connector.

It, too, is otherwise unchanged from the third generation iPad.

The base wifi unit with 16GB memory will retail for $329. Configurations similar to the full sized models are available. Preorders will be accepted starting October 26, and will be available in the Apple Store starting November 2.

Learn more about the new iPad Mini here.

At first glance it looks just like a miniature version of an iPad 2.

One of the most amazing things about the Mini was when Phil Schiller picked it up and held it in his right hand. I’ve had an iPad now almost since the start…and I have to tell you: watching someone hold what, by everything you know, looks like a standard-sized iPad in one hand–with fingers on both sides–is pretty surreal.

Apple also debuted a puzzling product–a new full-sized iPad, calling it the fourth generation model. This is puzzling because Apple has followed a fairly simple schedule for all its devices. The iPod has, since its introduction, seen its newest devices shown off in the fall; except for last year, the iPhone was an early summer/June release; the iPad was first seen in January 2010, and that’s when the latest ones have been announced.

The company had just announced the third generation model last March.

Here’s an overview, again from examiner.com:

The first to be announced was a device referenced only as the “fourth generation” iPad. This would seem to follow the trend it set last January when it announced its latest model as the “third generation,” instead of utilizing a numbering system like the one used with the iPhone. It also apparently replaces that model, as it is no longer listed on Apple’s iPad web page, and discussions in Apple’s online forum (found at the bottom of the page) refer to the third generation iPad as “out of date.”

There are only a few revisions from that model:

  • The newest iPad uses a new processor chip—designated A6X—which Apple says is twice as fast as the previous A5 one.
  • It also features the new 9-pin Lighting connector, introduced last month with the iPhone 5, which replaces the previously-standard 30 pin design.
  • Apple claims that the fourth-generation iPad has “ultrafast wireless” wifi connectivity, faster than any previous iPad model.

Everything else is basically unchanged from the third generation iPad: the acclaimed Retina display, available memory configurations, cellular service options, expected battery life, the Siri personal assistant and so on remain the same. Even the pricing is the same as the previous iPad—$499 for the base wifi 16GB model.

There is more information on the fourth generation iPad here.

You can watch the entire keynote event here.

So…why the change in schedule? Why the surprise introduction of a new iPad just six months after the last one?

Part of the answer might lie here…from Wired.com’s Christina Bonnington:

Apple introduced these products with the fanfare we’ve come to expect. But the action-packed event, which took place just days before Microsoft’s Windows 8-running Surface tablet hits stores, ended up raising a few questions — why so much, and, in particular, why a new iPad barely six months after the last one debuted?

The iPad announcement caught a lot of us off guard, but it wasn’t a surprise to everyone. Back in January, Digitimes accurately predicted that Apple would release a third-generation iPad in March, and a fourth-generation model in October. Many dismissed the report — Apple has dependably released an iPad once a year in the spring since the first model debuted in April 2010. Apple didn’t give any signs that it would change that up.

But it did, and for good reason: to make it even tougher for competitors to play catch-up to its top-selling tablet.

“It seems like Apple is shortening its product release cycle, which makes it much harder to compete with them,” Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps told Wired. “The faster Apple iterates, the harder for Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Samsung, and others to keep up.”

These other tablet makers will need to speed up their production cycles, too. But because it has such tight control over every aspect of production, Apple’s development cycle is generally much speedier than competitors’, and now it’s using that to its full advantage.

But why release the third-generation iPad in the first place? Why didn’t Apple just wait until the fall and release this fourth-generation model in the third gen’s stead — or even release the fourth-generation iPad back in March? Presumably, features like the A6X processor weren’t quite ready then. And if Apple had debuted an iPad with a Lightning dock connector at that point, it would have stolen a bit of the iPhone 5′s thunder.

“Apple is building on this pattern of releasing the newest tech with the iPhone and then iterating on or incorporating those features with the iPad,” Rotman Epps said.

The article goes on to point out that, while Apple isn’t overly concerned about Microsoft’s Surface RT launch on Friday, it does rightfully view the company as competition.

You can expect much media scrutiny over the sales of both the iPad Mini and the fourth generation iPad in the next few weeks. As stories develop you can find them here.

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