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Apple takes on smaller tablets with iPad mini

The new mini “isn’t just a shrunken down iPad,” Apple vice president Phil Schiller said.

Kimihiro Hoshino/AFP/Getty Images

The new mini “isn’t just a shrunken down iPad,” Apple vice president Phil Schiller said.

Apple Inc. moved to cement its dominance in tablet computing with a smaller version of its popular iPad device. But while the new iPad mini unveiled Tuesday carried the company’s signature technical sophistication and elegant design, at a starting price of $329 it is more expensive than similar products from Google Inc., Amazon.com, and Barnes & Noble Inc.

“If they could have gotten it below $300, they would have broadened the market even more,” said Sarah Rotman Epps, senior analyst at Forrester Research in San Francisco.

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Amazon’s Kindle Fire, Google’s Nexus 7, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet are each available for as little as $159.

Still, Epps predicted that the iPad mini, which goes on sale Nov. 2., will be another major success for Apple.

“It’s so nice to hold that many consumers will want to take it home with them,” Epps said. “It’s so seductive.”

Also Wednesday Apple unveiled an upgraded full-sized iPad with a faster processor, and improved versions of its MacBook Pro laptops and iMac and Mac mini desktop computers.

But the iPad mini was the center of attention. Apple has sold over 100 million full-size iPads in just two-and-a-half years; this extraordinary success has spawned a horde of rival tablets featuring smaller screen sizes and lower prices.

Before his death last year, Apple cofounder Steve Jobs rejected the notion of building a smaller iPad. But the Kindle Fire, the Nook, and the Nexus 7 have sold millions of units, proving that there’s a lucrative market for smaller devices.

The mini weighs about two-thirds of a pound and is only 7.2 millimeters thick. Its screen features a diagonal width of 7.9 inches, compared to the 9.7-inch screen of the standard iPad. The mini’s display isn’t as good as the very high resolution found on the newest iPads, but it does match the screen quality of earlier models. As a result, all 275,000 software apps written for full-size iPads will run properly on the iPad mini.

The mini will be available in a version that supports 4G LTE cellular data services as well as Wi-Fi wireless networking, and it includes a battery that’s supposed to keep the tablet running for up to 10 hours.

“This isn’t just a shrunken down iPad,” Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, said at an event in San Jose, Calif. “It’s an entirely new design.”

Schiller compared the new iPad to an Android tablet that appeared to be Google’s Nexus 7. He said the mini has a cleaner design, uncluttered by the onscreen control icons found on the Nexus tablet. And Schiller said the mini’s screen has 35 percent more viewable area than any 7-inch tablet.

The mini’s extra size could make it a little more cumbersome than its competitors.

“It is a stretch for a female hand to hold in one hand,” said Epps, who tried out the mini at the San Jose event.

But tech industry analyst Nathan Brookwood of Insight 64 in Saratoga, Calif., predicted that the mini’s relatively high price ensures that competing mini-tablets will remain popular.

“At $199, the Nexus or Kindle is an impulse item,” Brookwood said. “I envision lots of them will end up under Christmas trees later this year.”

The mini announcement is one of two major events this week that could shake up the tablet computer market. On Thursday, Microsoft Corp. holds an event in New York to unveil its Surface tablet, the first personal computer Microsoft has ever offered under its own brand. The Surface goes on sale to the public on Friday.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.
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