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Apple iPad mini makes debut

The iPad mini made its debut on Friday as Apple takes on rivals Amazon, Google and Samsung with a smaller version of its coveted tablet computer, but it was a low-key start as sales began in Australia.

While gadget lovers queued for days to get their hands on the new generation iPhone 5 at the tech giant’s flagship Sydney store, far fewer were on hand to snap up its latest offering.

“Looks like most ordered it online,” one person in the small queue told reporters, in stark contrast to the thousands of faithful who camped out for the iPhone.

The iPad mini will be launched in about three dozen countries in Asia and Europe in addition to the United States Friday.

Analysts had forecast a smaller turnout than at other product releases as the starting price of US$329 might seem steep to budget-minded shoppers open to Google Nexus or Amazon Kindle tablets available for $199.

“Devotion to Apple products has been compared to a religion,” said Gartner analyst Van Baker in the United States.

“But, I don’t think Apple will be as dominant in the seven-inch tablet space because they let the Kindle Fire and the Nexus get a foothold in the market at a considerably lower price.”

However Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu downplayed concerns about the iPad mini price, reasoning that the high-quality tablet will bite into sales of Windows-powered personal computers and Microsoft’s new Surface tablets.

“This controversy reminds us of what happened with iPod mini and iPod nano,” Wu said in a note to investors.

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“Both predecessors were criticized as being overpriced but went on to do much better than expected.”

Apple’s senior vice president for marketing Phil Schiller helped unveil the iPad mini last week, saying that it was an entirely new design and not “just a shrunken down iPad.”

The iPad mini’s touchscreen measures 7.9 inches (20 centimeters) diagonally compared to 9.7 inches on the original iPad.

Schiller said the iPad mini weighs 0.68 pounds, less than half the original, and is 7.2mm thick — thinner than a pencil.

The top-of-the-line 64GB iPad mini with Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity will sell for US$659. Like later versions of the original iPad, the new Apple tablet also features rear- and front-facing cameras. It also has stereo speakers.

People began pre-ordering the iPad mini on October 26.

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