San Jose, Calif. – Apple unexpectedly unveiled its fourth-generation 9.7-inch iPad and, as expected, debuted the long-awaited iPad Mini, which features a 7.9-inch screen. Both feature the new eight-pin Lightning connector.
The Wi-Fi versions of both products will be available Nov. 2 in multiple countries, and the 4G cellular versions will ship about a week later in the U.S., with other countries coming on board sometime later.
The iPad Mini with Wi-Fi is priced at $329 for the 16GB version, $429 for 32GB, and $529 for 64GB. The cellular versions are priced, respectively, at $459, $559 and $659. It lacks the full-size iPad’s Retina display.
The company retains the 16GB iPad 2 at $399.
The iPad Mini, available in white or black, performs better than the iPad 2, the company said, and features dual-core A5 processor, 1,024 by 768 display, HD front camera, and 5-megapixel rear camera with 1080p video capture while retaining a 10-hour battery life.
Apple chose a 7.9-inch screen size, which fits in one hand, to deliver a lower price point and therefore reach more consumers, the company said. The screen size also delivers compatibility with existing iPad-designed apps, provides more viewing area than 7-inch tablets, and delivers a better viewing experience than competing 7-inch tablets, executives said at the launch event, here.
The Mini is 7.2mm thick, or 25 percent thinner than the fourth-generation iPad, and it’s 58 percent lighter at 0.68 pounds.
The new full-size 9.7-inch iPad, which replaces the “new iPad” launched about six months ago, gets a two-times faster processor (A6x), two times faster Wi-Fi incorporating two-band 802.11n, front camera upgraded to 720p, and an LTE chipset that adds compatibility with the U.S. Sprint and Japan KDDI LTE networks. The price of the fourth-generation models are the same as the current “new iPad” models. Fourth-generation Wi-Fi models are $499, $599, and $699 for the 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB models. The 4G cellular models are priced at $629, $729 and $829 for the 16GB, 32GB and 64GB versions.
Apple launched the device to compete with a growing selection of 7-inch Android tablets available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google and Kobo at prices starting at $159 for an 8GB Amazon Kindle Fire to $249 for the 16GB version of the Google Nexus and $249 for the 32GB version of the Kindle Fire HD 7-inch.
The 7-inch competitors have helped erode Apple’s still-commanding tablet market share, which peaked at 73 percent of worldwide unit shipments in 2010 when the iPad was launched, fell to 62 percent in 2011, and is forecast to slip again in 2012 to 54 percent, market research company Ovum estimates. iPad market share in North America slipped in 2011 to 73.5 percent from 2010’s 84.5 percent and is expected to slip again in 2012, Ovum said, but the 2012 drop is expected to be less steep than the global drop.
The launch, several analysts said, marks the first time in recent memory that Apple is responding to market pressure rather than leading the market.
Ovum analyst Adam Leach said, “For the first time in its recent history, it is responding to market pressures from its competitors, namely Google and Amazon in bringing a smaller tablet to market.” In the past, Apple “has defined new products with new form factors and waited for the market to follow, [but] in this instance Apple is following the market trend towards smaller cheaper tablet form-factors. This reflects a fundamental change in the way Apple operates. Apple is assuming that a lower cost iPad will allow them to sell sufficiently more units to offset the dilution in ASP that a cheaper device is likely to cause.”
Analyst Jeff Kagan said, “I do see Google eventually generating the same success with the Android tablets that they see with the Android phones. That is the threat that Apple is preparing for with this new and smaller iPad.”
“This is so unlike Apple,” Kagan continued. “Apple generally leads. They generally put things into the marketplace that causes customers and competitors to follow them. This is the first time that the raging competition in the tablet market is forcing Apple to reverse their engines. This is the first time we have seen Apple follow the market, and not lead the market direction.”