Apple refreshes everything but kitchen sink, adds iPad mini

Everyone was expecting Apple to introduce the iPad mini at today's event—and maybe a 13" version of the Retina MacBook Pro, too. Apple delivered on those expectations, but a jubilant and slightly hyperactive Phil Schiller also took the opportunity to introduce a fourth-gen 9.7" iPad, a new generation of iMacs, and a revamped Mac mini. Apple events don't get much bigger than this, folks.

Let's start with the iPad mini, which is the most affordable—and arguably the most exciting—of today's introductions. The leaked images were accurate: this device has a 7.9" display with a thinner bezel on the sides than the regular iPad, and it features an aluminum shell and the new Lightning connector that premiered with the iPhone 5. Apple has stuck with the same 1024x768 resolution as the iPad 2, which means all existing iPad apps should work on the new device right out of the box, with no modifications needed. Schiller went to great pains to demonstrate the difference between its strategy and that of Google, whose Nexus 7 tablet runs scaled-up phone apps.

The iPad mini isn't exactly a Nexus 7 killer, though. While the Google tablet starts at $199, the smaller iPad will be priced at $329 and up. The base config will get you 16GB of flash storage capacity and Wi-Fi connectivity. 4G LTE will be available on a pricier, $459 variant. All versions of the iPad mini will also feature an A5 dual-core processor, front and rear cameras, a 10-hour battery, and 5GHz Wi-Fi connectivity. Apple quotes a weight of 0.68 lbs and a thickness of 7.2 mm for the device.

iPad mini pre-orders are scheduled to kick off this Friday, October 26. The Wi-Fi model will ship on November 2, and the cellular variant will arrive two weeks later in the U.S.

Apple's new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is almost as exciting—although at $1,699, it's probably out of the reach of many users. This is undoubtedly an impressive machine, however. Its 13" IPS panel has an eye-popping 2560x1600 display resolution with 300 cd/m² luminosity, and according to Apple, contrast has gone up 29% and reflectivity has decreased by 75% compared to the regular 13" MacBook Pro. There isn't much graphics horsepower driving all those pixels, though: just plain Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics, which are quite a step down from the GeForce GT 650M inside the 15" Retina MacBook Pro.

Apple says the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro should be available today. The base, $1699 config packs a 2.5GHz Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of solid-state storage, and a seven-hour battery. Connectivity includes dual Thunderbolt ports, USB 3.0, and HDMI. Apple has skipped optical storage, of course, which is probably why the machine only weighs 3.57 lbs with a thickness of just 0.75". Folks with extra scratch can spring for a Core i7 chip and up to 786GB of storage, but other extras will have to sit outside the machine.

What else? Apple has replaced the third-gen iPad with a largely similar fourth-gen offering, which has the same screen size, battery life, and asking price, but with a faster A6X chip and a Lightning connector.

Schiller also unveiled some redesigned iMacs. They're thinner (apparently an important improvement for huge, all-in-one desktops that will never see the inside of a backpack), and they're now powered by quad-core Ivy Bridge processors and Nvidia Kepler graphics. Display resolutions are the same as on older models—2560x1440 for the 27" system and 1920x1080 for its 21.5" sibling—but Apple touts an improved glass lamination technique that's allegedly reduces reflectivity by 75%. Here, also, Apple has excised the optical drive, but the presence of four USB 3.0 ports, dual Thunderbolt ports, 802.11n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0 ought to make up for it.

Oh, and there's a new Mac mini. Apple still charges $599 for the base model, but that now gets you a 2.5GHz dual-core Ivy Bridge processor, 4GB of RAM, and quad USB 3.0 ports.

Incidentally, both the revamped Mac mini and the thinner iMacs feature an optional storage configuration called Fusion Drive, which pairs a 128GB SSD with either 1TB or 3TB of mechanical storage. The operating system and default applications reside on the SSD, and OS X Mountain Lion automatically distributes additional apps and files between the two drives, prioritizing solid-state storage for apps the user runs most often. Sounds nifty.

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