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Apple Redesigns the iPad mini, Upgrades the iPad

At Apple’s “California Streaming” event, the company unexpectedly announced an incremental upgrade to its base-model iPad and unveiled a redesigned iPad mini. Both are available to order now and will ship on 24 September 2021.

The Sixth-Generation iPad mini

The iPad mini is small and apparently easily overlooked. Apple last updated it in March 2019, and that upgrade replaced the model previously released in September 2015. So the iPad mini was long overdue for an update, but what an update it has received!

In short, Apple has turned the sixth-generation iPad mini into a diminutive version of the iPad Air, with the same squared-off industrial design and modern specs. Prices start at $499 for 64 GB of storage, with an upgrade to 256 GB for $649. That may seem high compared to the $329 starting price for the iPad, but the fifth-generation iPad mini started at $529, and that was with an old industrial design (“Apple Quietly Releases New iPad mini and iPad Air,” 18 March 2019). If you want 5G cellular connectivity, add $150 to the price, making it $649 for 64 GB and $799 for 256 GB. The new iPad mini comes in space gray, pink, purple, and starlight, which is a sort of silvery gold.

Sixth-generation iPad mini

Here are the key specs of the sixth-generation iPad mini:

  • A taller but slightly thinner 8.3-inch IPS Liquid Retina display with 2266-by-1488 resolution, P3 wide color, True Tone, 500 nits of brightness, and an antireflective coating
  • Powered by an A15 Bionic chip, the same new chip found in the iPhone 13
  • Touch ID in the top button, like on the iPad Air
  • USB-C connectivity for faster data transfers and support for accessories like USB hubs, keyboards, mice, thumb drives, and even ultrasound scanners
  • Optional 5G wireless with up to 3.5 Gbps download speeds
  • Speakers on the top and bottom so you get stereo in landscape orientation
  • Two significantly better 12-megapixel cameras. The rear camera captures video in 4K resolution. The ultra-wide front camera maxes out at 1080p, but supports Center Stage.
  • Support for the second-generation Apple Pencil; like the iPad Pro and iPad Air, the pencil magnetically sticks to the side of its squared-off body

There’s one notable missing feature: the Smart Connector, which lets iPads directly connect to keyboards and cases. That means you’re limited to Bluetooth keyboards, which don’t provide as coherent an experience. It’s not too surprising, given that Apple would have to create keyboards and cases purely for the iPad mini form factor, and it might not sell in sufficient quantities for that to be worthwhile. Plus, an attached keyboard would have to be tiny.

iPad mini summary card

While the iPad mini lacks a Smart Connector for keyboards, it does offer a magnetic attachment for Apple’s Smart Folio, which costs $59 and comes in five colors: black, white, English lavender, dark cherry, and electric orange.

Overall, the sixth-generation iPad mini is a decent buy at $499, particularly for someone who wants a small iPad above all else and doesn’t want a tiny keyboard attached. I’d like to see a cheaper iPad mini focused on reading, but I doubt that’ll ever happen.

Lastly, Apple emphasized the fact that the iPad mini’s enclosure now uses 100% recycled aluminum; all iPad enclosures now use 100% recycled aluminum. That may not be a reason to buy the iPad mini or any other iPad, but it’s great to see Apple reducing its reliance on virgin materials.

iPad mini environmental card

The Ninth-Generation iPad

Apple favored the base-model iPad with yet another update, keeping it fresh while retaining its bargain-basement $329 price. On the outside, there’s nothing new in this ninth-generation iPad: it still has a Home button for Touch ID and still works with the first-generation Apple Pencil. But it picked up a couple of tricks from the iPad Pro:

  • Center Stage: The iPad receives a huge upgrade over the 1.2-megapixel camera in the previous model, with a new 12-megapixel ultra-wide front-facing FaceTime HD camera that captures 1080p video. The ultra-wide camera enables the Center Stage feature, which uses machine learning to keep the subject in the frame, making it seem as though the camera can pan back and forth.
  • True Tone display: True Tone started as an iPad Pro feature but has now worked its way down into the base iPad. True Tone relies on a built-in light sensor to adjust the display’s color temperature based on ambient lighting conditions.
iPad summary card
Oddly, the front-facing 12-megapixel FaceTime HD camera now captures more megapixels than the 8-megapixel rear-facing camera.

The ninth-generation iPad is powered by the A13 Bionic chip, the same chip in the iPhone 11 series and a generation newer than the A12 Bionic in the previous model. It may not compete with the A15 Bionic in the iPad mini, but it’s plenty powerful and helps keep the price down.

The ninth-generation iPad also comes with double the storage of the previous model, starting at 64 GB. A 256 GB configuration is available for $479. Add $130 if you want 4G LTE cellular connectivity, making the price $459 for 64 GB or $609 for 256 GB. It’s available in space gray and silver.

Particularly with these upgrades, the base-model iPad remains one of Apple’s best values, and it’s all the iPad most people need.

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Comments About Apple Redesigns the iPad mini, Upgrades the iPad

Notable Replies

  1. The thing that interests me is the updated iPad. It has 64Gb of memory and is just $329, but that’s an excellent price.

    I would highly recommend it to any basic user who wants a simple machine. And I’d recommend it over any Windows system. Add a decent keyboard for $100 and an Apple Pencil for another $100. Complete basic PC for $529 and can out perform any PC below $1200.

  2. I ordered the new iPad mini 256 GB memory and cellular modem for both my wife (replacing a V3 mini) and me (replacing a v5 mini). My V5 has a Zagg keyboard (the Brydge model just did not work well) which has worked well. I hope a keyboard is created for the v6. We expect them to arrive on 24 September 2021 in the colors we selected. I have to pickup the Apple smart folios at a local Apple store the same day. I go to a different Apple store earlier in the day to pickup my new iPhone 13 Pro Max.

    Use mine for manuals and schematics for vehicles, Airstream trailers and equipment.

  3. I have an iPad Mini 6 on order too, for Fri delivery. 256GB 5G black + ‘Midnight’ smart case.

    Really, I had to, as my v4 model was becoming super-sluggish, and not a good experience compared to my 2020 iPad Pro 12.9".

    I’d give Apple an 8/10 for the feature set. The no-button design, USB-C (though it’s certainly not TB3, but just 5Gbit vanilla USB), Pencil 2, and the A15 chip (if clocked down a bit compared to the iPhone 13 series), are all very welcomed. Though I still wish it had Face ID instead of Touch ID in the button (especially as the price warrants it now, IMO!), and some kind of (Magic) keyboard would be great, so one hopes maybe a third-party might offer something… eventually.

  4. I bought a regular iPad, also coming from the iPad 3! I can’t believe I bought that nearly 10 years ago and am kind of baffled as to why the entire device is sluggish, even doing internal things like Notes or Books (where I store sheet music). I will probably reset it back to factory defaults and use it as a reader.


  5. My wife and I ended up buying the last home button model Mini 5 before they went to of stock for her Mom to update from her Mini 4; hopefully that will give her another few years of good use, as the Mini 4 is starting to show its age. We just thought that the adjustment to a non-home button Mini would have been too hard for her. Since the home button iPads all support the same gestures as the newer ones without home buttons, maybe I’ll spend some time in a few years getting her ready for gesture-based navigation. She still uses a home button iPhone as well, though she doesn’t use it for much - just phone calls and texts. She also has a MacBook Air, but she uses the iPad for 90% or so of her computing needs.

    FWIW, I have the Air4, and the TouchID in the power button works really well for me.

    I used to have a Mini 4 but upgraded to the Air 4 last spring because the Mini was just a little too small to read for me at times using some of my often-used apps. That said, if this Mini had come out last spring, I might have upgraded to it instead and just dealt with the readability issues. The Mini is such a great portable device. This will be a great device for several years to come IMO.

  6. My mother’s 80 and uses an 11" iPad Pro 2020. So I’m sure your family member will get the hang of it! :slightly_smiling_face:

  7. We spend the summers living with her. For the rest of the year we don’t, and live about 45 minutes away. I am her tech support person, so this switch would have been manageable in June. Not so much now in September. For both her sanity and mine.

    Anyway, too late now, the Mini 5 is here and she’ll have it as a Christmas gift.

  8. GV

    I hear you about a cheaper iPad Mini for reading. . . I solved that issue by getting a new iPad Mini 2 for $230 in 2015. The New Yorker app is still working so I’m good! LOL

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