Shoppers got their hands on Apple's new iPad mini Friday, launched with less fanfare than previous incarnations amid talk that it might have come too late to the 7-inch-tablet computer market.
The ghost of Apple Inc. (IW 500/9) founder Steve Jobs hung in the air two days after Halloween as the company tried to lure shoppers with a slim black tablet computer that the company insists is more than just a shrunken version of its wildly popular iPad series.
The event stirred little of the excitement associated with previous Apple products however, generating only small lines of devotees at flagship stores around the world.
In suburban Milan, a couple of dozen such fans were treated to coffee and buns offered by the local Apple store.
"I got up at 6:30 in the morning but it was worth it," said Daniele Messi, a 20-year-old marketing student who was first in line there.
"I decided to buy it even though I already have all of Apple's other products. I love them," he added.
Earlier in the day, around 300 people queued up outside Apple's main store in Tokyo -- some wearing fancy dress -- to buy, or at least touch, the new product.
Around 20 people camped out overnight outside the shop, but the queue disappeared quickly following an initial rush.
In tech-mad Singapore, numbers were well-down on previous launches, while in Hong Kong around 30 people queued to collect their pre-ordered devices.
There was nothing like the days-long queues for the new-generation iPhone 5 in Sydney.
"Looks like most ordered it online," one person in the small Hong Kong queue told reporters.
Nevertheless, acolytes said they were impressed by the physical charms of the 7.9-inch touch-screen device that weighs less than half the original iPad, at less than a pound.
"It's completely different," insisted Ayano in Tokyo, who did not give her surname.
"It is thinner and very light. Look, you can hold it in one hand."
Hard to Impress in Tech Sector
Around three-dozen markets in Asia and Europe, as well as the United States, were due to see launches of the Wi-Fi-only version on Friday.
Market analyst Loo Wee Tech, head of Consumers Electronics Research, said the new tablets "failed to excite" a sector that has grown accustomed to ever more amazing gadgets over the years.
"What iPad Mini offers is a form factor that is useable with one hand and fits easily into most females' handbags," Loo noted.
He forecast that despite structural liabilities that included "the lack of readily available and reliable Internet access and Wi-Fi hotspots," Apple will move a lot of its product.
"We expect the iPad mini to be the best-selling electronic product for the year end holiday season," he said. "Consumers will be glad to pick up an attractively priced Apple branded tablet and Apple will further dominate the tablets market."
Ahead of the launch, analysts had warned that the starting price of $329 might seem steep to budget-minded shoppers who can buy Google Nexus or Amazon Kindle tablets for $199.
"Devotion to Apple products has been compared to a religion," said an analyst from the Gartner research firm.
"But, I don't think Apple will be as dominant in the 7-inch tablet space because they let the Kindle Fire and the Nexus get a foothold in the market at a considerably lower price."
In Seoul, there was a 200-strong queue, some of whom camped out overnight, with one man telling AFP that Apple is a better buy for his 4-year-old daughter.
"I prefer iPad to Android devices because it has more content for children like my daughter," he said in reference to a rival smartphone operating system developed by Google.
Die-hard fans also noted there was less buzz this time around.
"It's not surprising people wait for hours to be the first to get new Apple devices, but now the hype doesn't seem to be as big as before," said Kim Tae-Min.
Apple's Competitors Catching Up?
Mark Ranson, associate analyst at the global technology research firm Ovum, said the iPad mini marks something of a departure because it was an instance of Apple following the crowd, rather than setting the pace.
"This reactive nature of the iPad mini launch was largely the cause of the more muted public response," he said before adding that increasing competition was squeezing Apple.
"Samsung's continued growth, Google's further push into the device market with its Nexus line of products and the strong performance of Amazon's Kindle Fire, are all conspiring to bridge the gap between Apple and its competitors," he noted.
Apple's senior vice president for marketing, Phil Schiller, helped unveil the iPad mini last week, insisting that it is an entirely new design and not "just a shrunken down iPad."
Like later versions of the original iPad, the new Apple tablet features rear- and front-facing cameras, and also has stereo speakers.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012
By Gildas Le Roux