As we'd expected, although some commentators and analysts (what do they know?) questioned it, Apple just revealed its new iPad Mini with a retina screen. It's totally upgraded compared to last year, and just might be more important than the new iPad Air.
The new iPad Mini is externally the same as the old one. It's the same size, has the same ports, but it is a little heavier. That weight may have to do with the larger battery needed to power the Mini's newest feature: A 2048-by-1536-pixel screen, at a retina-beating resolution of 326 pixels per inch.
The bigger battery is also needed to power the A7 chip inside, which is the same class as the A7 chip inside the new iPhone 5S and iPad Air (though, because Apple doesn't talk specs any more, we don't know if its clocked at a lower speed or has other performance changes). There's also the new M7 motion chip inside, which means the iPad Mini may be useful as a fitness-tracking device.
The new iPad Mini is the same price as the old one, $399 and up for the Wi-Fi only model. Apple is using a trick it's used for the iPhone by keeping the old 16GB Mini on sale at $299—presumably to counter the swelling market of cheap Android tablets.
But there's a couple of things that stand out about this device. First, it's not going on sale as soon as the iPad Air is, which could support some earlier rumors about yield issues in the manufacture of its new screen. And second, the iPad Mini is as powerful as the full-size iPad, only smaller, and we know Apple is pushing the bigger device as having "desktop class" apps and content-creation potential.
This means you could look at the 4G-capable iPad Mini as Apple's own version of a "phablet," priced more aggressively in some ways than some of its rivals, like the Galaxy Note.
Considering the new tablet is so cheap, and comes with free iWork business apps that quite definitely rival Microsoft's Office and Google's productivity services, the new iPad Mini could appeal to a new class of user, and may be Apple's most important tablet yet.
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[Images courtesy of Apple]