Today in Apple history: iPad mini arrives

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The iPad mini made a big splash for such a tiny device.
The iPad mini made a big splash for such a tiny device.
Photo: Apple

November 2: Today in Apple history: iPad mini launch brings smaller size and price tag November 2, 2012: The first-generation iPad mini goes on sale, shrinking both the size and the price tag of Apple’s groundbreaking tablet computer.

With a reduced screen size of 7.9 inches — instead of the then-standard 9.7 inches — the iPad mini is the fifth iPad to be released by Apple. Critics hail Apple’s most affordable iPad ever, although some people complain about its lack of a Retina display.

iPad mini: Downsizing to the challenge of rivals

A bit like the iPhone 5c of the following year, the iPad mini seemed like a half-hearted attempt at competing with the growing number of budget rivals that arrived after the first iPad launched in 2010. These included the likes of the Google Nexus 7 and the Amazon Kindle Fire HD.

I say “half-hearted” because, like the iPhone 5c and the later iPhone SE, Apple seemingly couldn’t bring itself to dip down too far on either functionality or price point. The mini started at $329 for the most basic 16GB Wi-Fi version. And it ran all the way up to $659 for a 64GB model with 4G LTE connectivity.

However, it marked the start of a trend that has become a theme during CEO Tim Cook’s tenure leading Apple: introducing new screen sizes to challenge rivals’ products. One of the first post-Steve Jobs iPads, at the time the iPad mini felt very much like a new form factor dictated to Apple, rather than the other way around.

Later examples included the arrival of “phablet” iPhones in 2014. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But in this case, it demonstrated how rapidly the tablet world was changing already.

A mini legacy

The first iPad mini was a beautiful device in its own right. Its aluminum chassis borrowed its coloring from the iPhone 5. And it came in significantly lighter and slimmer than many of its rivals.

Its biggest failing was the 1,024-by-768-pixel screen resolution, which gave the iPad mini a pixel density of 163 ppi. That paled next to the 216 ppi of the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD. (Not to mention the 264 ppi of the fourth-gen iPad.)

Still, the iPad mini proved significant because it showed Apple’s willingness to experiment publicly with different display sizes. Today, the iPad mini is a bit of a forgotten relic. Apple released the most recent version, the iPad mini 4, in September 2015. With larger iPhone screens, Apple’s tiny tablet has largely been cannibalized.

Still, it’s interesting to speculate whether, without this device, there even would have been an iPhone 6 Plus or any of the other large iPhones we’ve seen since.

Did you own the original iPad mini? Leave your comments below.

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