Score one for the rumor mill. On Tuesday, just days before Microsoft is to show off its new Surface tablet, Apple unveiled the much-speculated-about iPad mini -- just as countless reports had predicted.
Sized at 7.9 inches and weighing half as much as the regular 9.7-inch iPad, the newest iPad is now thrown into competition with other smaller tablets, including Amazon's Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble's Nook tablet, and Google's Nexus 7. Research firm IHS iSuppli has projected that Apple's smaller tablet will double the market for 7-inch tablets by the end of 2013.
The new mini features a dual-core A5 processor, a front-facing FaceTime HD camera, an iSight camera on the back, a 10-hour battery life, and it comes in either Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi/LTE models. The iSight camera has video image stabilization, and both cameras have backside illumination for shooting in low light.
Starting Price: $329
While the rumor mill got the product more or less accurately, it was off on the price, as many observers had predicted $250 to $299. However, the actual starting price is $329 for the 16GB iPad mini with only Wi-Fi. The 32GB model goes for $429 and the 64GB for $529. Online orders are being taken, and the launch date is Nov. 2.
By contrast, the Fire and the Nexus 7 start at $199. But, within Appleland, the mini's price is only $30 more than the iPhone-sized iPod Touch and $70 less than the iPad 2's starting price.
Apple marketing head Phil Schiller, in presenting the mini, pointed out that Google's Nexus is heavier, thicker and has a smaller screen than the mini -- 22 square inches for the Nexus, compared to 30 square inches for the mini.
Thinner iMac, New 13-inch MacBook Pro
Also announced Tuesday is a fourth generation of the full-sized iPad, with an A6X chip, Retina display, upgraded FaceTime HD camera, faster wireless speed up to 150 Mbps --
twice the performance of previous iPads -- and the Lightning high-speed peripheral connector. This newer model was a surprise, given that the regular iPad was updated only seven months ago.
Apple also showed some refreshes to other products. There's a thinner iMac desktop, a new 13-inch MacBook Pro laptop with the high-resolution Retina display and all-flash storage, and a new version of the screenless Mac Mini. Schiller said that the 13-inch MacBook Pro, with a FaceTime HD camera, dual mics, Intel HD Graphics 4000, 8 GB of 1600-MHz memory, and up to 768 GB of storage, has "more pixels that anyone else's 15- or 17-inch notebooks."
CEO Tim Cook also announced a free 3.0 version of iBooks, with continuous scrolling instead of page turns, new options for sharing via Facebook or Twitter, and new iBooks authoring software , iBooks Author. There's also a new, hybrid Fusion Drive, combining 128 GB of flash storage with a hard drive for a total of 1 to 3 terabytes.