In case you need one more Apple product to carry around in your messenger bag, you now have the option of a device that is a lot like the iPad you already have, but smaller.
Apple announced today that the iPad Mini, which has a 7.9-inch screen, will start at $329 for a 16 GB, Wi-Fi only model. At that price, the Mini probably won't kill Amazon's Kindle Fire, which is still the primo low-cost tablet option at a starting cost of $160. But it will allow Apple fans to hold their tablets with one hand, a boon for those who prefer to use their iPads while cooking, driving, pooping, or playing Ultimate Frisbee. The Mini will also have HD FaceTime, so you can see every lonely pore on your long-distance boyfriend's face.
Apple CEO Tim Cook and executive gadget dude Phil Schiller introduced the Mini along with a slate of improved Apple products, including a new, much thinner iMac, a new Mac Mini, and a tweaked full-size iPad. But the Mini was the star of the show.
"iPad mini is a concentration of the iPad, not a reduction" said Apple design guru Jony Ive.
Early reviews of the downsized iPad have been glowing. (Engadget says it "feels delightful in the hand." The Verge adds: "It feels as high-end as the new iPhone, but even sharper in the hand - like a slice of solid aluminum.") But the introduction of a modestly upgraded full-size iPad angered some recent adopters, whose hefty investments have become essentially obsolete in a matter of months — still useful for swatting flies or holding down stacks of paper in a breeze, but subject to ridicule and derision in single-origin coffee shops and boutique hotel lounges.
Some onlookers also scratched their heads about what niche a smaller iPad would fill. Is it an iPod Touch on steroids? An iPad with a gastric band?
"It’s unclear where the device actually fits into the Apple family," Ritchie King of Quartz wrote. "Is it going to cannibalize sales of other products, such as its larger predecessor, just as the iPhone has stolen revenue from the iPod? Or will it be a distinct product unto itself, as the original iPad was?"
That the iPad Mini exists at all is a reversal of strategy for Apple. The company is essentially admitting that the smaller form factor of the Kindle and Nexus 7 tablets are worthy of attention, despite Steve Jobs's insistence years ago that "tweeners" (as he called tablets that were bigger than an iPhone but smaller than an iPad) would never sell.
Analysts at JPMorgan said the smaller, cheaper tablet would play well with a recession-hit crowd. ("Price-sensitive users could gravitate toward an iPad mini instead of making a PC purchase.") But the Mini isn't really all that cheap. At $299, it could have reasonably competed on price with the Kindle Fire. At $329, the new iPad Mini, which ships on November 2, is still solidly a price category above its cheaper rivals.
That may not matter, since the old price points have clearly not kept Apple from making bajillions of dollars. (Tim Cook announced that the company had sold 100 million iPads, all at supra-Kindle prices.) But Apple's refusal to sell iPad Minis close to cost means that while it's taking inspiration from its competitors on some fronts, it still very much wants to get paid.