(CNET) — Surprise! Apple not only introduced a smaller iPad Tuesday — the iPad Mini – but also unveiled a fourth-generation iPad that looks the same as the iPad 3 (aka the “new iPad”). The difference? The fourth-generation model has upgraded components, including an A6X processor, which, according to Apple, doubles CPU and graphics performance.
Hitting stores November 2, the fourth-generation iPad will come in white and black, and starts at $499 for the 16GB version. It has the same new Lightning connector found on the iPhone 5, an upgraded “HD” front-facing camera (720p), and 2X faster Wi-Fi.
As for battery life, Apple says that even with the faster A6X processor, the iPad retains its 10 hours of battery life.
For those looking at the cellular version of this model, Apple has said it has also made upgrades there, too. In the U.S., the 4G “iPad 4″ will start at $629 for the 16GB version. For now, the new, new iPad costs the same as the previous iPad did — from $499 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model, to $829 for the 64GB 4G version.
Cannibalism at work?
The relatively minimal changes between the two iPad devices, which we’ll call the iPad 3 and 4 to make things easier, make us wonder why Apple would cannibalize its best-selling iPad 3 with an updated device just six months down the road. Perhaps Apple is prepping its latest iPad for battle against Microsoft’s upcoming Surface tablets. Or maybe it’s just really excited about spreading its smaller Lightning connector. Whatever the reason, the move signals both good and bad news for consumers.
In reality, there’s less cannibalization going on than you might think. The iPad 3 is still for sale as a refurbished device, but stock has dwindled, making the iPad 4 the only real current option. That’s still disappointing for people who bought a full-price iPad 3 since March, and are now holding a very slightly outdated product. In a small concession, Apple has agreed to upgrade anyone who purchased the iPad 3 within the last 30 days, but only at select Apple stores.
Until then, there’s also the iPad Mini, which, with its 7.9-inch screen and cheaper price tag (starting at $329), could eat into future iPad 4 sales. In addition, the $399 iPad 2 isn’t entirely out of play; it still sells on Apple’s site.
The iPad 4 is an incremental update in the line of tablets that Apple popularized, and sales have been on fire. At Apple’s October 23 event, the company said it sold 100 million iPad units in 2.5 years, and has more than 90 percent tablet market share. Even if sales don’t spike to unexpected heights, the iPad 4 should keep them going strong.
Be that as it may, several full-size Android tablets are knocking on the door. While these devices may not take over the market, they’re getting better. CNET’s Android favorite is the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700, and we’re expecting Google and partners to announce a 10-inch Nexus tablet on October 29.
Don’t discount Microsoft, either. Its Windows RT Surface tablet, arriving October 26, starts at $499 for 32GB and comes with Nvidia’s Tegra 3 quad-core chipset, which offers ample graphics power for gaming and productivity.
The bottom line: Apple’s fourth-generation iPad will continue the company’s tradition of tablet excellence in an increasingly more crowded field, but the iPad could cede a little ground to the company’s own iPad Mini and to competing OS tablets.