Apple Almost Forgets To Mention The New iPad Mini 4

Behold, oh tablet lovers, Apple’s latest gift to you — a new mini iPad: the iPad Mini 4! You can just see it, fourth from the right, in the new iPad line-up, pictured above, on a slide from its ongoing ‘Hey Siri’ fall event today.

Cupertino has broken with its own release traditions in announcing a new mini a little earlier than previous refreshes. The iPad Mini 3 dropped in October 2014, bringing Apple’s biometric fingerprint reader, Touch ID, to the tablet, but not much else that was new — with the same internals as the 2013 model. So Apple’s small slate was overdue an upgrade.

That upgrade arrived today. Just. With Apple noting as an afterthought the arrival of a thinner and more powerful iPad Mini, that’s able to take advantage of new multitasking features announced in iOS 9. The new iPad Mini 4 is priced at $399.

“We’ve taken the power and performance of iPad Air 2 and built it into an even smaller Mini enclosure — it’s just 0.65lbs,” said Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller, after lavishing most of his attention on the Mini’s big brother (the supersized iPad Pro).

One reason for last year’s weak iPad Mini refresh was the fact Apple had just introduced its first phablet-sized smartphone, the iPhone 6 Plus. A larger iPhone risks eroding the differentiating gap between iPhone and iPad so likely explains why Apple took its foot off the upgrade gas for its 7.9inch slate last October — to better encourage people to part with their cash for its shiny new 5.5inch palm-stretcher smartphone.

But with the iPhone 6 Plus now well established in the market Apple is evidently less fussed about cannibalization between its small slate and big phones.

Indeed, it’s also now dovetailing upgrades so the year the iPad Mini gets a beefy upgrade coincides with the iPhone Plus only getting the more iterative ‘S’ upgrade (rather than the design step-change Apple typically gives its smartphones every two years). That, folks, is a streamlined refresh cycle.

Apple is also now pushing multitasking as a core differentiating feature for its iPads, with support for split-screen multitasking on the iPad added in iOS 9. The new beefier chip inside the iPad Mini 4 will support multitasking — given the iPad Air 2 already had the chops to handle it. So if you want a reason to buy one of Apple’s smaller iPads and an iPhone that might just be enough of a motivator. At least, Apple hopes so.

iPad sales growth has been declining for multiple quarters now, within an also sluggish overall tablet market as consumers see little reason to regularly upgrade slates, so Apple is doing what it can to reinvigorate excitement for a category it rekindled interest in with the first iPad, back in 2010.

Arguably the continued success — and screen size inflation — of smartphones remains the biggest challenge to tablets, at least in the consumer space. Why bother with a tablet when you can just pack a phablet? Enterprise users may therefore hold the key for Apple’s future iPad growth hopes.

Hence today it went large with the iPad Pro, which adds an even larger screen size (12.9 inches) into the iPad mix, with a 2,732 x 2,048 resolution display, and a stylus (called Apple Pencil) — clearly targeting design- and video-centric professionals. Health-related use-cases were also flagged up as a target, with an onstage demo putting a 3D anatomy scenario in the spotlight.

There was more, too: a ‘smart keyboard’ accessory for the uber slate — yes a cover that folds out into a keyboard, à la Microsoft’s Surface tablet — to further push the enterprise productivity angle. All of which makes it amply clear that Apple is sweating hard to burnish the business appeal of its tablets. Hey, it even had Microsoft up onstage doing a Word demo on the iPad Pro… And if that doesn’t blow your enterprise socks off, I don’t know what will.