News Column

iPad Mini Refreshes Apple's Lineup

October 24, 2012

Patrick May

For Apple (AAPL), small is the new big. As it unveiled its widely anticipated iPad Mini Tuesday in San Jose, along with other product upgrades, Apple said the smaller, cheaper and more portable version of its hugely popular iPad will open up tablet computing for the masses in a big way.

"All our efforts have combined to make a product that's incredibly thin and light," said Apple's creative guru Jony Ive in a video played for hundreds of media guests and analysts inside the historic California Theatre. "The result is an extraordinary iPad, one

that will be used in so many different places and in so many different ways."

One of the big surprises of the event was Apple's introduction of a fourth-generation iPad, just months after the last one came out. But it was the Mini that quickly stole the spotlight.

Hoping that the Mini, with its lower price ($329) and smaller screen (7.9 inches versus the iPad's 9.7), will protect it from an onslaught of more affordable tablets from rivals like Amazon and Google (GOOG), Apple executives pumped up the superlatives for the crowd, which reportedly included Laurene Powell Jobs, widow

of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

"This is the iPad Mini," said Apple's marketing chief Phil Schiller, as the screen behind him showed an image of an iPad slowly turning around to reveal a pint-size replica clinging to its back. "What do you do with the Mini that you can't already do with the iPad? Hold it in one hand. But it's not just a shrunken-down iPad; it's an entirely new design where every detail was finely crafted. And it's incredibly thin and beautiful from every angle."

While the Mini got top billing at Tuesday's show, it was hardly an unexpected appearance, given the rumors and leaks that have been circulating for months in the blogosphere. What did catch people by surprise, though, was its relatively high price. With rival tablets in its category like Amazon's Kindle Fire HD at $200, and the iPad itself starting at $500, many analysts had expected Apple to offer the Mini for as little as $249, hoping to discourage buyers from fleeing to more affordable alternatives.

"The price is higher than the $299 we were expecting," said Gene Munster with Piper Jaffray after the event concluded. "But while there's a big gap between $329 and $200, I suppose Apple wanted to differentiate the price of the Mini from its latest iPod Touch, which starts at $300. It would have been weird if they had priced the Mini below what the Touch costs."

Munster said the $329 price is still close enough to the competition to lure new customers who until now would have gone with Google or Amazon. "And for $329," he said, "you're getting Apple quality in a smaller form factor. The real question is, can they make enough of them in time for Christmas?"

Wall Street seemed worried, though. As news of the Mini's price spread, investors dumped Apple stock, sending shares down more than 3 percent for the day.

Midway through the event CEO Tim Cook brought out Schiller, who introduced a new 13-inch

MacBook Pro with Retina display and a new iMac desktop, its sleek frame 80 percent thinner than its predecessor. And then, after more from Cook about the phenomenal success of the iPad with business and academic users, he brought back his marketing lieutenant to drop the day's other big news: a new fourth-generation iPad will now replace the third-generation model that was introduced just seven months ago.

"This," Schiller said of the newest iPad, "is a powerhouse. With the new Apple A6X chip and its faster performance, I can't even see the competition in the rearview mirror."

The latest tablet, which like its predecessor goes for $499, is faster and slimmer and comes just days before Microsoft is due to show off its own Surface tablet. It and the Mini will be available in stores Nov. 2.

When it was time for the littlest member of the iPad family to take a bow, Schiller brought out the Mini and immediately launched a slide show comparing it with Google's popular 7-inch Nexus 7 tablet. Then he went down a checklist of why the Mini was superior -- finely crafted aluminum casing around the display, easier to hold in one hand, more screen space when surfing the Web.

"Theirs is made of plastic," Schiller said derisively of the Android tablet. "The entire Android product is thicker and heavier."

With its Mini, Apple "has created a new segment in the small-tablet market," said analyst Avi Greengart with Current Analysis. "It's a better design and has better materials than the competition. And unlike its rivals, the mini has 275,000 iPad-specific apps that look great on the device.

"Sure, it's not cheap," Greengart said, "but it's less expensive than the full-size iPad, so for those people unwilling to accept an Apple substitute in a small tablet, this is great. And when you put it next to a Nexus 7, even to the average user it's instantly obvious which one is the nicer, lighter and better designed."

Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689; follow him at Twitter.com/patmaymerc.

Details of Apple upgrades

Here's a quick look at some of the new product upgrades from Apple, as well as the third-generation iPad now being put out to pasture:

The fourth-generation iPad (available Nov. 2) Wi-Fi 16GB starts at $499; Wi-Fi plus cellular starts at $629 Dimension: Height 9.5 inches; width 7.31 inches; depth 0.37 inch Weight: 1.44 pounds Display: Retina display; 9.7-inch (diagonal) screen with 2048-by-1536 resolution New features: New front-facing FaceTime HD camera, twice-as-fast Wi-Fi and a new A6 processor that doubles the performance of the previous generation's processor, the A5X.

The third-generation iPad (to be replaced by new-generation iPad) Pricing: Same as fourth-generation Dimensions: Same as fourth-generation Power: Dual-core A5X processor (quad-core graphics subsystem) Display: Same as fourth-generation

The iMac: Starts at $1,299 Features: All-in-one aluminum enclosure; Quad-core Intel Core i5 or i7; up to 32 GB memory Display: 21.5-inch or 27-inch LED-backlit

The MacBook Pro Starts at $1,199 Features: Precision aluminum unibody; dual-core Intel Core i5 or i7 (13 inch); quad-core Intel Core i7 (15-inch) Display: 13.3- or 15.4-inch LED-backlit glossy widescreen


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Source: (c) 2012 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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