Apple announces smaller, cheaper iPad

Phil Schiller unveils the iPad mini
Phil Schiller unveils the iPad mini Photo: Reuters

Apple unveiled an 8 inch tablet today in its biggest product launch since the debut of the iPad two years ago, launching a smaller version of the gadget into a market staked out by Amazon and Google.

The 7.9 inch iPad mini marks Apple's first foray into the smaller-tablet segment.

Apple also announced a fourth-generation full-sized iPad with improvements in graphics and processing speeds, just two days before Microsoft is due to show off its own "Surface" tablet.

Apple hopes to beat back their charge onto its home turf of consumer electronics hardware, while safeguarding its lead in the larger 10-inch tablet space that even deep-pocketed rivals like Samsung Electronics have found tough to penetrate.

Chief Executive Tim Cook kicked off the event by touting the iPhone 5 as the fastest selling smartphone in history. He added that there are now 200 million devices running iOS6, the fastest upgrade rate he has seen since the mobile software was launched about a month ago.

Amazon's Kindle and Google's Nexus 7 have grabbed a chunk of the lower end of the tablet market and proved demand for a pocket-sized slate exists. That has forced Apple into a space it has avoided and at times derided, analysts say.

A smaller tablet marks the first device to be added to Apple's compact portfolio under Cook, who took over from co-founder Steve Jobs just before his death.

Joseph Weisenthal, deputy editor of Business Insider, pointed out the drop in Apple's share price when the iPad mini's pricing was announced.

The BBC's technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, tweeted that he thought the new iPad would outsell the previous versions.

Phil Schiller unveils the iPad mini
Phil Schiller unveils the iPad mini Credit: Apple

"Apple sensed early that they had a real winner with the iPad and that has proven to be correct," said Lars Albright, co-founder of mobile advertising startup SessionM and a former Apple ad executive.

"They have a large market share, and to protect that market share they have got to be innovative."

Analysts have said for months that Apple was planning a less expensive version of the iPad to take on cheaper competing devices, a move they say might hurt its margins but prevent its rivals from dominating an increasingly important segment.