SAN JOSE, Calif. – A new full-sized, fourth generation iPad sporting an upgraded A6X processor was the surprise of Tuesday's (Oct. 23) Apple roll-out event. Apple also surprised users with a slightly bigger than expected iPad Mini with a 7.9-inch display.
The iPad Mini goes on sale Nov. 2 starting at $329 for a Wi-Fi-only version with 16 Gbytes of flash, weighing in at 0.68 pounds and measuring 7.2-mm thick. Otherwise, the new, smaller tablet is a generally unremarkable device that roughly compares in specs to the iPad 2.
[Get a 10% discount on ARM TechCon 2012 conference passes by using promo code EDIT. Click here to learn about the show and register.]
The bigger surprise is that Apple was ready to roll a new full-size iPad just six months after releasing its last version. As with its last model, Apple did not give the new tablet a specific name, such as iPad 4, suggesting the move to shorter product cycles will likely continue.
The new full-sized iPad is powered by a custom A6X with two CPU and four graphics cores. Apple claims it offers twice the CPU and twice the graphics performance as the previous A5X.
As usual, Apple provided no other details about the new chip except to say it would provide performance needed for the tablet’s 5-megapixel camera and its 3.1-megapixel display. The latest iPad will again have the 10-hour battery life of its previous generation.
With the faster product cycles and new form factor, Apple is rolling up its sleeves for tightening competition in tablets. The roll out comes the same week Microsoft will formally release Windows 8 along with its Surface tablet and OEM tablets using the software.
Apple’s launch event here made it clear it has Amazon’s Kindle family and Android tablets squarely in its sights as it tries to expand an already rapidly growing franchise.
Apple CEO Tim Cook extolled the virtues of an updated Apple iBook app and textbook authoring program, clearly aiming at Amazon’s franchise. Phil Schiller, Apple’s marketing vice president, compared the experience of a variety of apps on the new iPads versus on Android tablets.
Apple remains far ahead of the gathering competition. It sold its 100-millionth iPad two weeks ago, two and a half years after it launched the original product, Cook said.
In addition, Apple now has 200 million users of its latest iOS 6 operating system, he added. “This is the fastest upgrade rate of any operating system we are aware of,” he claimed.
Even before the formal launch, market watchers at IHS iSuppli predicted Apple’s iPad Mini would help double the size of the seven-inch tablet market this year.
The Mini will do well despite the much lower $249 price of the heavily subsidized Amazon Kindle Fire HD, said veteran Apple follower Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies (Campbell Calif.). “For $79 more you get Apple's sleek design, apps that work on their 7.9-inch screen perfectly and Apple great service and support,” he said.
“The iPad 4 and the Apple A6X announcement caught me completely off-guard,” said Allan Yogasingam, technical research manager at UBM TechInsights, part of UBM LLC, the publisher of EE Times. “Apple is testing the goodwill of their consumers by launching a new, improved iPad 4 with an improved processor just six months” after its last iPad, he said.
The name A6X may suggest Apple’s continued use of the SGX graphics cores of Imagination Technologies, he added. Apple’s A6 used the SGX 543MP3, said Yogasingam who has helped tear down past Apple iPhones and iPads.
Photo gallery: Inside the Apple iPad 2
Apple Mini may max tablet sales
Why Microsoft Surface will be a no-show in Japan