The Mini is a relatively late entry into the small-tablet market. It also comes at a premium, starting at $329 for a 16-gigabyte, WiFi version. But analysts said it instantly raised the bar for competitors, including Google and Amazon.
"Overnight, Apple has created the gold standard in small tablets, and it's going to force all its competitors back to the drawing boards," said Tim Bajarin, a longtime Apple watcher and president of Creative Strategies Inc. in Campbell, Calif.
Bajarin said Apple likely decided more than two years ago to enter the small-tablet niche, but was willing to take its usual development time despite pressure from competitors. Amazon introduced its first 7-inch Kindle Fire a year ago, and Google put its brand on the widely praised Nexus 7 tablet in June. Samsung also makes small tablets based on Google's Android operating system.
"Apple couldn't just stay on the sidelines and give that segment of the market up," Bajarin said.
Apple's success with the full-size, 9.7-inch iPad will itself be a hard act to follow. Cook said that about two weeks ago, Apple recorded its 100 millionth sale of the product, which hit the market in April 2010.
In fact, before the Mini was unveiled Tuesday, Apple senior vice president Philip Schiller took the microphone to announce a fourth-generation iPad, just seven months after the third generation - one with Apple's vaunted, high-density "Retina display" - was introduced. Schiller called the latest full-size iPad "a powerhouse" that doubles the March version's processing and graphics performance.
But Schiller's main focus was the Mini. He began by touting its obvious virtue - "you can hold it in one hand" - and said Apple had outdone its competition.
"Others have tried to make tablets smaller than the iPad, and they've failed miserably," he said.
To illustrate how Apple believes it has succeeded where others have fallen short, Schiller displayed a working Mini alongside an Android tablet - a Nexus 7, Bajarin said - to show how much extra screen space Apple squeezed onto a package that is just slightly larger and a bit lighter, 0.68 pounds versus the Nexus' 0.75 pounds. Schiller said the Mini's display measured nearly 30 square inches, versus about 22 square inches on the Android.
Analysts such as Forrester Research vice president Frank Gillett were impressed by Apple's feat.
"To me, the most interesting thing is how lightweight it is. When you pick it up, you're surprised. It does not feel like you're picking up a technology product," Gillett said after trying out the Mini. "It really does stand out."
The physical differences between the iPad Mini and its competitors may seem small - it weighs about 3 ounces less than the Kindle Fire HD, and 1 ounce less than the Nexus 7 - but Gillett said they could be significant to tablet buyers who want to use them in place of lighter e-readers.
He said Forrester's research shows that tablet owners use them "around the house, in bed and on the couch" - situations where a full-size iPad, even at less than 1.5 pounds, may seem too big and heavy.
It remains to be seen how the overall market will react, especially to the Mini's prices - blamed, at least in part, for Tuesday's 3 percent dip in Apple's stock price. From $329, the Mini's prices rise with more memory and for versions that include access to LTE wireless networks.
When the Mini begins shipping next month, a 64-gigabyte version with cellular access will sell for $659 - more than the full-size version with 64 gigabytes.
But Apple has one obvious edge over its Android-based rivals, or a new round of small tablets that use Microsoft's latest Windows 8 platform: about 275,000 applications designed for iPads in Apple's App Store. Bajarin and Gillett said Android offers only "a couple hundred" apps that are truly optimized for a tablet rather than blown-up versions of smartphone apps.
One feature the Mini lacks is Apple's Retina display. But the Mini squeezes as many pixels as an iPad 2 into a screen about half the size, resulting in what Bajarin called a "beautiful display."
Contact Jeff Gelles at 215-854-2776 or email@example.com.