Apple Unwraps iPad Mini Along With New, Full-Sized iPad
Apple unveiled a smaller version of the iPad on Tuesday, with a price tag starting at $329 for a 16 gigabyte tablet.
In an unexpected move, the tech giant also introduced a fourth generation of its regular iPad, starting at $499. Both tablets are the latest complements to an ever widening array of digital devices that Apple boasts will "offer something for everyone."
After nearly a year of breathless speculation and barely a month after it lifted the curtain on a fifth version of the iPhone, Apple CEO Tim Cook debuted several other devices, including updated versions of the MacBook Pro, the iMac and Mac Mini.
The new iPads are strategically positioned to take advantage of the holiday shopping rush, which begins in earnest next month. (Read more: Apple Live Blog.)
The fourth generation iPad, which was something of a surprise to Apple watchers, will feature a new processing chip, called the A6X, and twice the graphics capability. It will have the same ten hours of battery life, a WiFi connection that is twice as fast as the iPad 3, and will feature Apple's new Lightning connector.
Yet the spotlight at Tuesday's event belonged to Apple's eagerly awaited iPad Mini. Similar to the miniature version of its digital music player, the iPod, the iPad Mini gives users the same functionality of a full-sized iPad, yet at a size that makes it easier to carry.
At the event, Apple's senior marketing guru Phil Schiller held the device in one hand, in order to demonstrate its portability, calling it an "amazing new addition to our iPad family." Schiller added that "there's something, in a wide range of price, for everyone." (Read more: Will the Mini iPad Redefine the Tablet?)
The iPad mini will be 7.2 millimeters thick — the approximate girth of a Number 2 pencil — and will weigh 0.68 pounds. In what some users might find disappointing, however, the Mini's 7.9 inch display will have the same resolution as the original iPad, meaning it will lack the sharp high definition effect of the later models.
The miniature version will have the same ten hours of battery life as the larger sized predecessor, but will be what Apple calls the smallest battery it's ever made. Apple will begin taking pre-orders this Friday, with shipping expected within the next two weeks.
Brian White, analyst at Topeka Capital Markets, said that margins on the iPad mini will likely be smaller, even though it will still be considered a "luxury" product at a slightly lower cost than a traditional iPad.
"I think ultimately this can be bigger than the iPad market," said White, who actually handled a prototype iPad Mini version recently. "I don't think ipad mini will surpass the ipad in the first year, but I do think when we look out two to three years down the road, I think this is a bigger market opportunity for apple."
Cook also said the full suite of iPad devices have sold more than 100 million in just under three years, and accounts for a whopping 91 percent of tablet web traffic.
Reports published in the run up to the announcement had said the latest iPad could be priced somewhere within the $250 - $329 range. Another report stated its official name would be the iPad Air. (Read more: Is This What the iPad Mini Will Look Like?)
Apple also revealed a new generation of the iMac, its desktop, and the MacBook, Apple's top selling laptop computer. The new MacBook Pro will be less than an inch thin, 20 percent lighter than its predecessor and will weigh just over 3.5 pounds — a pound less than the current version. Meanwhile, the latest iMac is 45 percent thinner, and will include a fully laminated display.
The fiercely contested segment of the market is seen as the future of computing, raising the stakes for Apple and its competition. Analysts speculate that portable devices such as tablets and smartphones will eventually overtake traditional personal computers (PCs).
By pushing the iPad mini onto the market just in time for the Christmas shopping season, Apple appears to be throwing down the gauntlet to several of its major competitors, many of which are attempting to erode the tech giant's dominance in the tablet market. (Read more: Apple's Smaller iPad Risks Cannibalization: Strategist.)
Apple's primary combatants in the digital wars are Amazon with its indle device, and Barnes and Nobleand theNook. Other contenders include Google's Nexus 7 device, and Microsoft's ecently released urface tablet.
At the presentation, Cook bragged that Apple products occupy both the top position in both notebooks and desktop computers.
—Jon Fortt contributed to this report from San Francisco.