Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Apple surprises at iPad mini event: unveils fourth-generation iPad, not tweaked iPad 3

Apple held its iPad mini event on Tuesday, and as expected, we learned about the smaller sibling to its best-selling iPad, but also far, far more.

However, before anything new, Apple did its normal thing - it applauded itself for the iPhone 5 launch with a short video - but also applauded other things such as iOS 6 and the fifth-generation iPod touch.

At that point, Apple SVP of worldwide product marketing Phil Schiller came out to deliver the meat of the discussion.

Slideshow of iPad mini event


Apple announced an update to the 13-inch MacBook Pro (which the company said was the most popular MacBook in their line). The new version is 20 percent thinner and weight 3.57 pounds, nearly one pound lighter than the prior generation. That new weight makes it the lightest MacBook Pro ever. It also sports a Retina display, of 2,560 x 1,600. The only notebook to surpass it, Apple said, is the 15-inch version of the MacBook Pro.

Intel dual-core i5 and i7 Ivy Bridge processors are available. There is a claimed 7-hours of battery life, up to 768GB of flash storage, and 8GB of RAM. Graphics are provided by integrated Intel HD 4000 Graphics.

Pricing begins at $1,699 for a 2.5Ghz dual-core i5 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of fkash memory storage. These are shipping today.

Mac mini:

Schiller joked "you knew there would be something with 'mini' in this presentation, right?" and received laughs and applause. We are, of course, more interested in the iPad mini.

The upgrades include a dual or quad-core i5 or i7, Intel HD Graphics 4000, up to 16GB of RAM, up to 1TB HD or 256GB of flash. Starts at 2.5GHz dual-core i5, 4GB, 500GB HDD, $599. Server config is 2.3GHz quad-core i7, 4GB of RAM, Two 1TB HD OS X server, $999.


The new iMac is amazingly thin. It looks thin enough to cut bread with (5mm, 80 percent thinner than the last iMac). "There's an entire computer in here," Schiller joked.

The entire display system is 45 percent thinner than before. Removed optical drive and re-engineered all the components. It's true that optical drives are becoming less relevant, but still ...

The display comes in two sizes of display, 21.5-inch (1920 x 1080) and 27-inch (2560 x 1440). The displays are IPS, with a 178 degree viewing angle, and 300 nits.

In addition, the new iMac has a 720p FaceTime HD camera, dual microphones, and a stereo system that Schiller said sounds better than the previous generation, despite having 40 percent less volume. The new iMac is also 8 pounds lighter.

Fusion drive:

128GB of flash storage with a 1TB or 3TB hard drive, fused into a single volume. This is somewhat similar to hybrid drives we've seen earlier, but Apple is supporting the drive directly in Mountain Lion. As you use OS X, the computer will determine which software and files to put on the flash portion of the drive, and which to put on the hard drive.

Shipping in November, the 21.5-inch iMac 2.7GHz quad-core i5, 8GB RAM, GeForge GT 640M, 1TB HD, $1,299. Shipping in December, the 27-inch iMac, 2.9GHz quad-core i5, 8GB RAM, GeForce GTX 660M, 1TB HD, $1,799.

Schiller then turned over the microphone to Apple CEO Tim Cook, who introduced the iPad portion of the event. He noted that Apple has sold 100 million iPads already.

When asked why the iPad is so successful, Cook answered simply: people love their iPads. What hasn't been loved so much, though, is Apple's iBook store. However, it was clear from what Cook was "selling" that the iPad mini was created to enhance the education market.

While people were saying, "Come on, Tim; get to it," Cook then announced that Apple was upgrading iBooks Author. It made sense, with the iPad mini coming.

Now, about that iPad mini ... Cook invited Schiller back on-stage.

The surprise wasn't the iPad mini, which was well-known, but that Apple wasn't announcing a tweaked iPad 3, but instead a fourth-generation iPad.

iPad 4:

It sports a new chip: the A6X chip. It is twice as fast as the A5X chip, with double the graphics performance. They are also adding a new generation of image signal processor for facial recognition and image stabilization.

The FaceTime camera will be updated with a FaceTime HD camera. As expected, Apple is expanding the LTE coverage, probably to match the iPhone 5's coverage. the device will have the same 10-hour battery life as the previous generation, and the same price, too.

iPad mini:

Indeed, it is called the iPad mini. 7.2mm in thickness, about the same as a pencil, and light, 0.68 pounds or about as light as a pad of paper. The iPad mini comes with a 7.9-inch screen, with 1,024 x 768 resolution, just as the iPad and iPad 2 did.

Schiller then compared the iPad mini to similar 7-inch Android tablets (of course, he didn't include 8.9-inch Android tablets), including screen size, thickness, weight. According to Schiller, removing the "noise" (such as softkeys, etc.) the iPad mini has a 67 percent larger screen in landscape mode.

He also hammered the lack of tablet-specific Android apps, which is true. He called it a "great experience" (iPad optimized) vs. a "not-great experience" (non-Android tablet optimized).

The iPad mini comes with an A5 processor (such as in the iPhone 4S), a 5MP rear-facing iSight camera, and a FaceTime HD camera. It will come with LTE as well.

In terms of iPad mini pricing:

16GB of storage, wi-fi, $329 (as expected).
32GB $429
64GB $529

Cellular versions come with a $130 premium. Pre-orders start on Oct. 26. The wi-fi versions will ship on Nov. 2. The wi-fi+cellular versions will ship two weeks later, on Nov. 16.

The holiday shopping season may be very iPad-centric this year.

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