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Ihnatko: Apple displays its capabilities at iPad mini event

The iPad Mini is shown San Jose Calif. Tuesday Oct.  23 2012.  Apple Inc. is refusing compete price

The iPad Mini is shown in San Jose, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012. Apple Inc. is refusing to compete on price with its rivals in the tablet market, it's pricing its new, smaller iPad well above the competition. On Tuesday, the company revealed the iPad Mini, with a screen that's about two-thirds the size of the full-size model, and said it will cost $329 and up. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

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Updated: November 25, 2012 11:39AM



It’s almost time to start talking about Apple as a company that makes displays. That’s one of my takeaways from the first half of the company’s big media event this week.

They showed off a new version of the 13” MacBook Pro (Apple’s best-selling Mac) with a new, Retina-grade display...it’s as clear, crisp and impressive as the 15” Retina MacBook, though with in pixel dimensions. Alas, this compact 13” notebook has only the second-largest screen dimensions in all of Notebookland. It’s 20 percent thinner than the old model (so: bye-bye to the optical drive) and a pound lighter.

It goes on sale today, starting at $1,699.

Apple’s finally turned its attention back to the desktops, after a long enough gap to make some folks wonder if they weren’t bailing on its AC-dependent citizenry entirely. The new iMac has a non-Retina screen but it’s practically leaf-thin. From certain angles, it looks like the front sheet of cardboard from the box it shipped in: It’s just 5mm at its thinnest edge, and overall volume has been cut by 40 percent.

How thin is that? So thin that this desktop Mac doesn’t have room for an optical drive. Yes, but how thin is it? Well: It’s so thin that its SD card slot can’t fit on the edge of the screen, where it’d be handy and accessible. Instead, it’s mounted around the back, next to the iMac’s range of ports.

The new iMac ships in November, starting at a friendly $1,299. The Mac Mini gets faster CPUs and a modern range of ports and radios (Thunderbolt, USB3, and faster WiFI), which is a similar set of upgrades to what the other new Macs received. The Mini and the iMac get a new trick to themselves however: a new hybrid hard drive that Apple calls a “Fusion Drive.” It mates 1 or 3 terabytes of spinning storage to 128 gigs of flash inside the same drive and the same volume.

The user has no idea why performance has suddenly increased to near-solid-state-drive levels. Behind the scenes, Mac OS is keeping an eye on how you use your Mac, and silently moves often-used apps and files to the solid-state portion of the drive. Fusion Drive is available as an option on the Mac Mini and iMac.

But then Tim Cook moved on to the most eagerly anticipated announcement of the event: the iPad. After a quick brag (100 million iPads sold to date), he handed the Talking Stick to Phil Schiller. Who smiled broadly and then revealed...

...The 4th generation iPad. Not a smaller iPad Mini.

Few people expected to see that. I sure didn’t. And the new iPad is no minor update. It has a new A6X processor with twice the performance of the previous generation, and a new image processor. The WiFi radio has been upgraded to the latest standards (expect double the speed, on the right networks). Of course it has the new Lightning dock connector.

Otherwise, it’s the same thing as what Apple released earlier this year. It appears to be the same size and weight. It has the exact same display as the 3rd-generation model, the same 10-hour battery life, and the same pricing: it starts at $499 for the WiFi-only model, with LTE pegged at $130 extra.

Wow. Was that the big iPad announcement? Were all of the rumors wrong?

Whew, no: the iPad mini (yes, lowercase “m,” please) then made its expected debut.

With a 7.9-inch screen, it’s 7.2mm thin . . . 23 percent thinner than the full-sized iPad. The 1024x768 display is the same pixel dimensions as the iPad 2, which means that all existing iPad apps will run without modification. It still runs 10 hours on battery, it’s available with LTE as an option, it has the full power of the A5 processor, along with upgraded WiFi and Lightning connectors.

It’s truly a “real” iPad...just smaller. It’ll be available in stores on November 2.

What a shocker of a price, though: the iPad mini starts at $329.

Yup, that’s easily the most affordable iPad ever sold...but it’s also 165% the price of the very good Google Nexus 7 tablet (to which Apple directly compared mini, though curiously, not by name), and the rather excellent Kindle Fire HD. The iPad mini is clearly priced like a computer, not like a content device. Will consumers who couldn’t fit a $399 iPad 2 into their budgets fit a $329 iPad mini into their pockets? I dunno.

I somehow suspect that Apple will sell plenty of these iPad minis, regardless. But it’ll be interesting to watch how this cross-platform pricing structure affects the tablet market. I see this as an opportunity for makers of affordable tablets. At minimum, they’re all breathing again. A $130 price difference gives them plenty of breathing room.

The event leaves me with a larger question, though. Why introduce a fourth-generation iPad in October? Well, one possible answer to that is the fresh onslaught of Microsoft Surface and Windows 8 convertible tablets that are being released this month: many of these devices run the desktop edition of Windows 8 along with the multitouch-friendly Metro interface, at distinctly iPad-like pricing.

But it also makes me wonder what Apple is planning for the fifth-generation iPad. Is it so radically new that Apple felt safe releasing the usual incremental update six months early? Stay tuned.



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