With the iPhone 5 still generating buzz, Apple has offered up a new item to ogle over: the iPad Mini.
As the Mini’s name suggests, the most obvious difference here is size. The idea of an Apple tablet in the 7-inch realm was almost too much for late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. He was once quoted as saying, “We [Apple] think that 7-inch tablets are going to be DOA (dead on arrival).”
Was the visionary Jobs wrong? He was known for reversing some of his opinions on game-changing ideas. Or was he just offering all of Apple’s competitors a little bit of trade misdirection? Whatever the motivation, the company Jobs founded is now proving that statement wrong by releasing iPad Mini to compete with smaller tablets like Google's Nexus 7 and Amazon's Kindle Fire HD.
The winds began to change during Apple’s landmark trial with Samsung over patent infringement. As part of that trial, emails were released that showed Apple executives discussing the viability of a 7-inch class Apple tablet. In those communications, Eddy Cue, head of Apple internet services, told Jobs’ successor, Tim Cook, that there were serious advantages to creating a tablet that customers could use to read, check email and stay updated on social networks, without the heavy, bulky body of a 10-inch tablet.
The iPad Mini is built to fill a niche: it’s the same thickness as an iPod Touch, at just 0.28 inches — a substantial reduction from the newest, full-sized iPad’s 0.37 inches. That thickness is augmented by narrower bezels on the sides of the iPad Mini, allowing what will feel like more screen real estate to view images. The tablet is also a good deal lighter, weighing just 0.68 pounds compared to the 1.44 pounds of the full-sized iPad. But the device doesn’t just beat out previous Apple products. It’s lighter than Google’s Nexus tablet, which weighs in at 0.75 pounds, and the Kindle Fire HD at 0.87 pounds. The end result is a 7-inch class tablet with the profile of an iPod Touch. With this size and design, the tablet can be comfortably held and used with only one hand.
With the smaller design and a screen that preserves the aspect ratio of the 275,000 dedicated iPad apps in the App Store, the iPad Mini could be a seriously useful addition to your kit by providing you with a more portable tablet.
First, the camera. The smaller, sleeker iPad Mini sports a front-facing HD 720p FaceTime camera and a 5-megapixel iSight lens on the back—maintaining the full-size iPad camera specs, but not a match for the 8-megapixel lens on the iPhone 5. The rear-facing camera can also shoot 1080p HD video. The lens is a five-element construction, with f/2.4 aperture, and hybrid IR filter.
With the smaller body comes a smaller screen: 7.9 inches compared to the full-size iPad 9.7-inch display. The iPad Mini offers 1024-by-768 resolution at 163 pixels per inch. It's not Retina, so won't be as good for precision editing, but will still serve up your images splendidly when showcasing a portfolio or proofs for a client.
Compared, however, to the new 4th generation iPad with Retina display (also announced today), the iPad Mini can't hold a candle to it's 2048-by-1536 resolution display with 264 pixels per inch. For sheer picture quality, the 4th generation iPad has it beat.
The iPad Mini maintains the same aspect ratio of the full-size iPad, making it easier for developers to keep up and the 275,000 apps already designed especially for iPad remain relevant. The iPad Mini should also be able to provide adequate processing power with an A5 dual-core processor and 512MB of RAM.
Though the screen resolution might disappoint some photographers with a host of portfolio apps who were hoping for a retina display to show of their images, because the iPad Mini fits between the comparatively tiny iPhone 5 and the suddenly-large 4th generation iPad, it opens up new possibilities for app developers. Whereas up to now, many developers working on photography-related workflow and 'helper' apps have chosen to develop them for the iPhone because of its portability, the iPad Mini would seem to offer more potential – a big enough screen to show off images, but a small enough form-factor for a photographer to pack into a camera bag and use as an information and planning tool on a shoot.
Like the current iPad, the iPad Mini comes in wi-fi and wi-fi and 4G LTE options, with Verizon, AT&T and now Sprint carrying the device at launch.
The iPad Mini will start at $329 making an Apple product, at last, slightly more competitive with 7-inch tablets like Google's Nexus 7 and Amazon's Kindle Fire HD, which start at $249 and $199 respectively for the same 16GB capacity. The 32GB and 64GB wi-fi models cost $429 and $529, respectively. Cellular models start at $459 for the 16GB model, while 32GB and 64GB LTE models will cost $559 and $659.
Following on the heels of the iPhone 5 launch, there’s also big news for the iPad Mini’s dock connector: it’s got the new “Lightning” connector, which is 80% smaller than previous Apple dock connectors. At the iPhone 5 launch, Apple indicated that a healthy number of peripherals to support the new format were on their way.
In terms of battery life, iPad Mini has a 16.3-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery, offering the same 10 hour battery life of its full-sized brethren.
Apple is offering an optional “smart cover” for the tablet, which puts the device into sleep mode when laid over the screen. These covers come in six different colors, but there was no indication of pricing on these covers at the release event today.
The wi-fi models of the iPad Mini start shipping on November 2, with pre-orders beginning on Friday, October 26. The cellular models ship two weeks later.
While you’ll get less functionality at a lower price, you’ll still see some familiar features, including satisfying Apple design and a second-to-none app ecosystem. And perhaps the biggest reason of all to get the new iPad Mini: portability.
It’s everything you want in an iPad—only smaller.
Logan Kugler is a technology writer based in Silicon Valley. He's written for more than 60 major publications including Popular Photography, Computerworld, PC World, PC Magazine, Mac|Life, Men's Journal, and Forbes. He's loved taking pictures ever since his parents gave him a giant plastic kid camera when he was 5. He vividly remembers the day he bought his first digital camera the very first year they showed up at Circuit City: a top-of-the-line Sony CyberShot 2MP.