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Apple unveils new iPad Mini

Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller announces much-anticipated iPad Mini during Apple's special event at the California Theatre.

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San Jose, California: With the launch today of the iPad mini, Apple raised the bar in its battle with tablet rivals Samsung, Google and Amazon.

It also stole the thunder that Microsoft hoped to generate at the release three days from now of the Surface, its belated bid for a place in the fiercely competitive worldwide tablet market that is changing the face of computing for consumers and businesses alike.

Apple's iPad mini ... shown during a media hands on.

Apple's iPad mini ... shown during a media hands on. Photo: Bloomberg

Apple had a gap in its armour with no offering in the smaller-format tablet sector that Amazon's Kindle Fire and the recently arrived Google Nexus 7 have until now dominated, and which consumers have shown they like. The iPad mini is a little larger than the Android offerings, but still comfortable in one hand, lighter and slimmer and – a powerful selling point – fully compatible with all iPad apps and the wider Apple ecosystem embracing iPads, iPhones and Mac computers. The iPad mini format also offers better screen display of web pages and videos.

Like its big brother iPad, the mini is encased in anodised aluminium, where the Androids are plastic, and is made with the attention to design and quality of construction that is Apple's hallmark.

But while the iPad mini was centre of anticipation before today's event in the historic California Theatre in San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley, it was just one of four announcements made by chief executive Tim Cook. "We're not taking our foot off the gas," said the leader of the world's most valuable company.

Apple CEO Tim Cook shows off the iPad mini. Click for more photos

Apple launches the iPad mini

Apple CEO Tim Cook shows off the iPad mini. Photo: Getty Images/AFP

Also announced were a new and more powerful full-sized fourth generation iPad, a new 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina Display notebook computer and, biggest surprise, an all-new sleeker, slimmer, more powerful line of desktop iMac computers. The 13-inch MacBook Pro has been Apple's bestselling notebook. Now with the high definition, ultra-bright Retina Display used in the 15-inch MacBook Pro announced in June, it is set to maintain that lead.

The other point Amazon and Google will note about the iPad mini is its pricing, starting at $A369 for the basic wi-fi model, rising to $899 for the full bells and whistles model with wi-fi and 4G connectivity, 64GB of storage and the same performance and 10-hour battery life as its big brother, the fourth-generation iPad.

And, another powerful selling point, although it is smaller – a 7.9 inch diagonal screen versus the 9.7-inches of the full-sized iPad – all 275,000 apps specifically built for the big iPad will work just as well on the mini. The screens have the same pixel count, so app developers do not need to rewrite their code for the new smaller format.

For Microsoft, which analysts have criticised for allowing Apple and Google to seize and dominate the mobile, touchscreen market, the Apple announcements present a considerable challenge.

On Friday, Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer will define his daring experiment to breathe new life into the flagging Windows PC environment. Windows 8 has been out in beta form for several months and has gained some kudos, but with it and the Surface, and presumably a line of third-party Windows 8 compatible notebooks and desktop machines, Microsoft hopes to convince customers, even in the corporate world, that touch can be wedded to keyboards and mice.

The world is embracing mobility in computing. Can Microsoft rejuvenate sagging global demand for desktop PCs? Most PCs are in business offices. Will companies, many strapped for cash and growth by the global financial woes, adopt Ballmer's strategy and spend on new machines and new software?

So far the jury is out. The Microsoft-Nokia smartphone was admired by technical types, but has failed to gain significant share of a market dominated by Apple and Android.

Analysts still wonder if Microsoft's $US8.5 billion acquisition of Skype and its $US1.5 billion spent to buy Facebook wannabe Yammer will pay off. In the 2012 fiscal year, ended on June 30, Microsoft showed an operating loss in its online services division (search engine Bing, MSN and online advertising engine aQuantive), of $US8.1 billion for the 2012 fiscal year ended June 30. In the first quarter of this financial year a further $384 million was lost.

Clearly a very great deal hangs on Windows 8 and the Surface, and Apple just made it harder.

Garry Barker travelled to San Jose as a guest of Apple.