As the iPad reach continues to grow, now reaching over 100 million devices sold in two and a half years, the options need to continue to grow. And in typical Apple fashion, they release small changes to a product line rather than a full refresh. Today, the iPad line got that refresh.

Dropping the version number from the name and seeing the iPad become known as just the iPad has shown that Apple now treats it as a first class product line that will get irregular updates. Much like the Macbook, iMac, or Mac mini lines, the updates are not on any regular schedule. It may, as we've seen today, get two updates in a year. Or, it may, as some other product lines have seen, be much less frequent.

The iPad, as the larger 9.7" device is known, got a bump to a fourth generation. The processor speed has been approximately doubled with a jump from the A5 to the A6X chip. Extra speed is always welcome. With this new generation we also see further adoption of the Lightning connector, replacing the 30 pin connector the earlier iPads had. In addition the fourth generation will also see greater support for LTE bands in use outside the US, faster Wifi, and well, that's about it. It's a minor tweak in feature list wise, but brings it up to date with current Apple standards.

Introducing the iPad mini

But the big news, and the news everyone was waiting for, came as the last item presented today. Introduction of the iPad mini was met with much applause, even in the usually stoic press crowd. While, due to the usual leaks, we knew just about everything already about this smaller version of the iPad, it was great to finally see it officially revealed.

As expected, the iPad mini is basically a smaller iPad 2 with some important features updated. While it does not have the Retina display, it does share the same resolution as the original and iPad 2, ensuring that almost all of the 275,000 iPad apps available will work fine with it. The iPad mini, like the fourth generation iPad also sees the Lightning port, better LTE and Wifi performance. Prices for the iPad mini start at $329 for a 16GB Wifi version and go up to $649 for 64GB LTE version.

iPad mini Hands On

Immediately after the event today I had a chance to go hands on with the iPad mini. It reminded me of the first time that I held an iPhone 5. It just seemed so much lighter than the previous generation, I was momentarily confused. It's amazingly thin, and easy to hold with one hand or even two fingers.

I think I will find the iPad mini being the device I take with me more and more often now. When I want to do more than what I can on my iPhone, but less than what I need a laptop to do. Not sure where that leaves the full size iPad in my workflow.

Also introduced were new video and camera connection kit cables for the iPad and presumably the iPhone. Details on prices are not yet known, but don't expect them to be cheap.

If I had one thing bad to say about the iPad mini, it would be the home button. It felt oddly small. Feeling even smaller than the home button on the iPhone. Perhaps it was just my perception at the time.

Why the iPad mini Matters So Much

The iPad mini is a very important release for Apple, for many reasons. For one, it matters due to choice. As a product matures, the need for new sizes will always appear. Much like other Apple product lines, we now have a large and a small version.

Size also matters for people with small hands. Take for instance educational uses. Kids with smaller hands will find the iPad much easier to hold, use, and carry with them. As the iPad is becoming more and more important to education, this will matter.

Portability is also a consideration. While the iPad is certainly easy to carry with you just about anywhere, it still needs a bag of some sort to keep it from being exposed to the elements and from being dropped. The iPad mini, while by no means pocketable, will fit much better in jackets, purses, and other places where the iPad was just too large.

Price. Yeah, while Apple didn't go cheap on this device. They did lower the barrier to entry for the iPad line. $329 isn't cheap, but it's less than $399, which used to be the cheapest iPad you could get. It's not Kindle Fire territory either. But then again, Apple never tries to play in the shallow end of the pool.

I'm happy to see the iPad mini finally revealed. I'll be ordering mine on Friday, when the pre-order opens up. What about you?

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