Steve Jobs once derided tablets with smaller screens, saying they would need to include sandpaper so people could sand down their fingertips to use them. But that didn’t stop his company from shrinking the iPad.
Unveiled Tuesday, Apple’s new iPad Mini is smaller and lighter than its predecessor. Its screen is 7.9 diagonal inches, making its surface area significantly smaller than the current 9.7-inch iPad. It weighs about two-thirds of a pound. The company is selling the lowest priced Mini for $330, about $130 more than similarly sized tablets from competitors.
Apple also introduced an upgrade for its iPad, which includes a faster processor and the new Lightning connector. It also showed new laptop and desktop computers. Phil Schiller, Apple’s vice president for marketing, said the smaller, lighter tablet would be a good fit for people who want something more portable than the 1.44-pound iPad. “The iPad is the top-selling tablet in the world, but we’re not taking our foot off the gas,” Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said at a news conference here.
The introduction of a smaller iPad is a bit of a shift for the company. In a call with investors, Jobs once said 7-inch tablets from competitors like Samsung and Research In Motion were “tweeners” that were too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with an iPad. The new iPad Mini is slightly larger than 7 inches but can still fall into that category.
But with all the action in the technology market, smaller tablets have become impossible to ignore. Google, Apple’s fiercest competitor, recently released its 7-inch Nexus 7 tablet for $200. And Amazon recently introduced seven new Kindles, including a 7-inch tablet for $160 and an 8.9-inch tablet for $300. Barnes and Noble’s Nook tablet, which starts at $200, has also sold well. Combined, the three companies have sold about 15 million of these smaller, cheaper tablets, according to estimates by Forrester.
Apple recognizes it now has more real competition. At the event, Schiller actually did a side-by-side comparison of the Mini to a Google Nexus 7 tablet. He said that other companies had tried to make smaller tablets, but that they were inadequate. He noted that the iPad Mini was thinner, lighter and more durable than Google’s tablet, and still had a bigger screen.
“Others have tried to make tablets smaller than the iPad but they’ve failed miserably,” Schiller said while showing screenshots of apps running on the Nexus 7 and iPad Mini side by side. Apple still dominates the market with 100 million iPads sold to date. But that could have been 15 million more tablets if it had had a smaller, cheaper version of the iPad on the market earlier, said Sarah Rotman Epps, a Forrester analyst. “Rather than cede the low end of the market to Amazon and Google, they’d prefer to take it themselves,” she said. “Apple is smart to be acting before it gets to be more of a problem.”
Rotman Epps said that the smaller, cheaper iPad could broaden its appeal to women, because it can more easily fit into a purse. And it would probably also have better luck in less wealthy countries like China, where iPad demand has been slow compared to cheaper Android tablets.
The insides of the iPad Mini are on par with Apple’s other mobile devices: It includes a new processor called the A5, the Lightning connector and a 5-megapixel camera. The smaller tablet does not, however, have the high-resolution Retina display of its bigger counterpart, presumably to keep it thinner and lighter.
Apple also introduced a family of new Macs, including upgrades for the MacBook Pro, iMac and Mac Mini. The 13-inch MacBook Pro notebook now includes a high-resolution Retina display, similar to the display technology on the current iPads and iPhones. Schiller said the screen on the new notebook had twice the pixels of a high-definition television. The iMac is 80 percent thinner and eight pounds lighter than its predecessor.
The new iPads will begin shipping Nov. 2, and two weeks later the version with a cellular connection will ship.