12:46 12 November 2012
This week's unveiling of the iPad mini was a little underwhelming because it was so widely expected, but Apple did have at least one surprise up its sleeve.
As predicted, Apple announced a shrunk-down version of the popular 9.5-inch iPad measuring 7.9 inches from corner to corner.
It also caught many commentators on the hop by announcing the fourth generation iPad, just over six months after it rolled out the third generation model, breaking its yearly product cycle.
Will Apple annoy fans with the quick turn-around? And will the iPad mini pose a threat to other small tablets? Here's what features you can expect from the new tablets, when they will be released, and how much they'll cost to buy and run.
Apple's new, smaller tablet will go toe-to-toe with its comparable rivals in the Google Nexus 7 and the Amazon Kindle Fire - but at £269 for the wifi-only 16GB model, the iPad mini perhaps isn't priced as competitively.
So what do you get for your money? Basically an iPad with the same specifications as the iPad 2 that you can hold in one hand. This means the same 1024 x 768 resolution screen and not the Retina Display found on the iPad 3 and iPad 4 - more on that shortly.
Google's Nexus 7 actually has a better screen at 1280 x 800 and costs a lot less at £159 for an 8GB version. Amazon's Kindle Fire has a display which matches the Nexus 7, also trumping the iPad mini's screen and priced at £129 for an 8GB version.
The iPad mini is thinner than the standard iPad at 7.2mm (compared to 9.4mm) and its innards, including an A5 processor, are housed in a unibody aluminium case, like the iPod touch. It connects to a charger or other accessories with the new, smaller Lightning dock connector which made its debut with the iPhone 5.
It has all the features you'd expect to find on the iPad 2, which means access to 275,000 apps in the App Store, iTunes and iBooks for your music, film and literary entertainment and video conferencing via FaceTime.
If you need more storage you can get the wifi-only models with 32GB and 64GB of memory for £349 and £429 respectively. If you want mobile connectivity and a 4G-ready version, the 16GB, 32GB and 64GB models will set you back £369, £449 and £529 respectively.
Just this week EE, the UK's first 4G provider, announced prices for its 4G phone tariffs - starting at £36 a month for unlimited calls and texts, but only 500MB of data.
EE launches 4G on October 30, and while it hasn't yet announced any iPad-specific 4G tariffs, it was name-checked at the iPad mini/iPad 4 launch event.
If you want a mobile web connection on your iPad mini or iPad 4 and you're not too concerned about 4G (remember EE is launching 4G in just 16 UK cities in the run up to Christmas, so your coverage may be limited), Three offers a 10GB allowance on a rolling one-month contract for £15 a month.
Whatever the cost, the iPad mini at least one-ups its rivals with its mobile connectivity. Both the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire are wifi-only, so the iPad mini is better if you want to use the web on the move.
Apple could be trying the patience of even its most ardent supporters as it also announced the iPad 4, a little over six months since it announced the iPad 3 in March.
The iPad 4 will essentially replace the iPad 3 - remember that Apple never called it the "iPad 3", merely the "new iPad". Again, they're not officially calling the new version the "iPad 4", but the "iPad with Retina Display" instead.
The display is the same as the one found on the iPad 3 and is four times sharper than the iPad 2, but Apple has made upgrades elsewhere. The front-facing camera has jumped from 0.3 Megapixels to 1.2 Megapixels.
The iPad 3's A5X processor, the tablet's brain, is upgraded to the A6X for the iPad 4 which Apple says will double its processing performance.
One of the more obvious changes since the iPad 3 is the new Lightning dock connector. The new 8-pin connector renders all of your old accessories and chargers useless, at least without an adapter.
The iPad 3 was technically 4G-ready, but there were no 4G providers around back in March. With EE launching 4G at the end of the month however, the iPad 4 will be a fully useable 4G tablet, as long as you're in an area with 4G coverage.
The iPad 4 will be priced the same as the iPad 3 because Apple plans on phasing the older model out. Given the same price for both models, consumers are bound to opt for the more up-to-date model.
Release dates and tariffs
You'll be able to pick up an iPad mini and the iPad 4 from November 2, but if you want to guarantee that date you'll probably have to pre-order now.
Again, we don't know how EE will price its 4G iPad tariffs, but if you're not too concerned about 4G, or you don't live in or near its 16 launch cities, there are plenty of 3G tariffs to choose from.
Three's £15/10GB a month deal is quite attractive for both the iPad 4 and the mini, but might be a bit of a waste if you don't think you'll use your full 10GB allowance.
As a guide, 1GB of data is enough to download 10,000 web pages, 200 songs or two hours of video. Multiply that by 10 and you'll see it's probably more than the average user will need.
If you want to pay less you could opt for a tariff with a lower allowance. Three offers a 1GB limit for £7.50 a month, or you can get a 3GB allowance with Vodafone, Orange or O2 for £15 - but if you're willing to pay that you might as well get 10GB with Three.
Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing.
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