Apple introduces iPad mini 3 with Touch ID, but an old processor

It's not nearly as powerful as the iPad Air 2


The third-generation iPad mini is here, and yes, it's got a Touch ID fingerprint sensor built in. Apple just (very quickly) introduced the iPad mini 3 during an event at its Cupertino headquarters. Looking at the device straight on, you'd be hard pressed to spot any major differences between Apple's latest 7.9-inch tablet and the iPad mini with Retina display that was released last year. Aside from the Touch ID home button, it's identical: a Retina display up front, chamfered edges, and an aluminum rear shell. (Like the new iPad Air 2, it too now comes in gold.)

It starts at $399 for 16GB in Wi-Fi only and runs up to $729 for a 128GB + LTE model. Pre-orders begin tomorrow, and ships by the end of next week. The previous iPad mini with Retina display — now known as iPad mini 2 — has received a price cut and can now be bought for as low as $299. And the first, non-Retina iPad mini now costs only $249, though there are probably better options out there for that price.

Phil Schiller didn't spend very much time discussing the iPad mini 3 on stage today; he focused mostly on the flagship iPad Air 2. And there's a reason for that. The iPad mini 3 doesn't carry the same hardware specs as its larger counterpart. Not even close. In fact, it's still using last year's A7 chipset and M7 coprocessor. That's a hugely disappointing departure from what we saw in 2013, when Apple brought both iPad models to parity. Apple's new smaller tablet also lacks the impressive camera optics of the larger model; instead it's got a 5MP iSight camera.

There's a reason apple didn't spend much time talking about this thing

Last year, Apple put the iPad mini on equal footing with the iPad Air in terms of what went inside the device. Both included the company's A7 chipset and offered largely the same performance. Unlike the first iPad mini — which debuted in 2012 and shipped without a high-resolution display — the second-gen model was truly a miniature version of the full-size iPad. That's sadly no longer the case. The iPad mini 3 has been held back while the iPad Air 2 has received the advancements you'd expect from a new hardware revision. That creates a clear distinction in Apple's tablet lineup. But it also leaves us scratching our heads as to why you wouldn't just buy the iPad mini 2. Touch ID isn't that big of a selling point.

There's another factor in play this year, too. For 2014, consumers have a new alternative to the iPad mini — and it's another Apple product: the iPhone 6 Plus. The 5.5-inch smartphone has a good chance of cannibalizing at least some iPad mini sales, but Apple has always maintained that it would rather have people choose between its own products instead of going with a competitor. There are certainly worse problems to have than iPhone sales eating into the iPad mini's performance at retail. And since the iPhone 6 Plus is significantly more powerful than the "new" iPad mini, that could become a major trend.