Apple struts iPad Mini, goes premium with $329 price

Also refreshes 9.7-in. iPad, unveils Retina-equipped 13-in. MacBook Pro, raises iMac prices by $100 (see video below)

Apple today unveiled the iPad Mini, a smaller tablet starting at $329 that features a 7.9-in. 1024-x-768-pixel display and can run all existing iPad software without modification.

Apple iPad Mini
Apple announced its smaller iPad, the iPad Mini, with a 7.9-in screen. (Image: Apple)

The company also revamped the 9.7-in iPad, calling it a "fourth-generation" tablet, but like the third iteration it launched just last March, it didn't bother to slap a number in the name.

Tuesday's event was Apple's first invitation-only presentation to be publicly webcast in over two years, and just the third ever.

"I think I can tell from your excitement that you know what this is," said Philip Schiller, Apple's head of marketing, when he first showed the tablet to reporters and analysts today. "This is iPad Mini."

The new tablet is significantly lighter -- at 0.68 pounds, 53% lighter than the refreshed fourth-generation iPad -- and at just 7.2 millimeters, a quarter thinner than the full-sized iPad. Like its bigger brother, the iPad Mini comes in both black and white models, and in both Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi/cellular configurations.

"This isn't just a shrunken down iPad," asserted Schiller, adding that the specifications were equal to or better than 2011's iPad 2, which Apple will continue to sell for $399 and up.

The smaller tablet is powered by an Apple-designed A5 SoC, or "system-on-a-chip," a dual-core that also runs not only the iPad 2 but also last year's iPhone 4S.

It includes both front- and rear-facing cameras -- the latter is a 5 megapixel device -- and features the same 10-hour battery lifespan of its elders. Schiller also made it a point to note that the iPad Mini's screen resolution meant all iPad apps now in the iOS App Store will run on the tablet.

"All the software created for the iPad works on the mini, all with no change," he said.

But it's not as inexpensive as some analysts had predicted, or bloggers had hoped, much less price-competitive with 7-in. tablets from the likes of Google and Amazon.

The iPad Mini starts at $329 for a 16GB Wi-Fi model and climbs to $529 for a 64GB configuration, with a $429 32GB device in between. The 3G/LTE-capable iPad Minis are priced from $459 to $659. The cellular models will be available for AT&T, Sprint and Verizon in the U.S.

Earlier forecasts for the entry-level iPad Mini had been as low as $249, with many more pegging $299 as the likely price. Only in the last week did rumors of a $329 price surface.

"I think it's a little high," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, in an interview after Apple wrapped up its event. "I was figuring on no more than $299."

Carolina Milanesi of Gartner didn't disagree, but had a slightly different take.

Keith Shaw and Ken Mingis chat about the iPad mini and its impact on the 7-inch tablet market. Will it be able to compete with lower-priced tablets from Google and Amazon?

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