iPad mini and iPad 4: Apple has muddied the waters

Apple's worst kept secret is now official: the iPad mini is here. But the unexpected introduction of the iPad 4 alongside the new smaller device could muddy the waters for potential Apple tablet buyers.

Before the start of 2012 if you wanted to buy a tablet, your choices were pretty simple: you could buy an iPad or you could buy one of the Android pretenders to the throne, most likely a Samsung Galaxy Tab of some sort. Most people chose one of the two iPads available.

Apple iPad mini
The Apple iPad mini was unveiled on Tuesday. Image: James Martin/CNET

Fast forward to mid-2012 and the third-generation 'new iPad' hits the streets, adding to the options, but it was still relatively straight forward as Apple took the first generation iPad out of circulation. Naturally you still had to choose what storage size you wanted, but that was all.

But just seven months later, we have the fourth-gen iPad and the introduction of the iPad mini.

Apple is trying to keep your buying options as straight forward as possible by withdrawing the third-gen iPad, but there's no doubt that there will be a few (potentially a few million?) irritated iPad 3 owners as result of such a quick refresh of the device.

In fact, for the next week or so, as a result of the announcements, the only brand new iPad you can buy from its online store is the iPad 2.

Failing to lead?

However, for me the most interesting thing about the announcements on Wednesday wasn't the hardware. Sure, the faster processor, higher res screen and expanded LTE support is nice: an evolutionary refresh but not a revolutionary one.

What's more interesting is the way in which Apple now seems to be failing to lead the market in the way it once did, and is instead reacting to developments - rather than driving them.

Apple's plan wasn't to introduce a 7.x-inch tablet ; it only did it once it saw just how successful the form factor could be with the likes of the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7 - and more importantly how many potential sales it was missing out on.

The introduction of the mini also potentially puts buyers to the test too. Do you shell out £249 for a 32GB iPod Touch, £269 for the 16GB iPad mini, £329 for the 16GB iPad 2 or £399 for the equivalent iPad 4? That's a crowded line up - a lot of products at a lot of price points.

Which is better? Do they all do the same things? Why even consider buying an iPad 2 if the iPad 4 is only £70 more? These are all very obvious questions that people will be thinking and asking in Apple stores around the world.

To me a company that has faith in its sales continuing to climb does not introduce a totally unexpected revamp seven months after its last launch. The strange thing here is that looking at Apple's recent financial statements, sales of its iPad weren't falling.

Whatever the reason, to me it doesn't smack of confidence, which isn't a position we're used to seeing Apple in.