Will the iPad Mini and its smaller screen win the hearts and spending dollars of consumers?

Image courtesy of Apple, Inc.

In 2010, Apple created the tablet market. While there had been tablet-style devices around before the iPad -- including Apple's own Newton -- the concept never gained traction with consumers. But the company's "giant iPod touch" pioneered the form factor of a thin, touch-based device -- bigger than a smartphone but smaller than a laptop -- and made tablets part of the everyday gadget landscape. The iPad was designed for consuming content -- watching videos and browsing Web sites, reading e-mail, and keeping tabs on social media. Apple's tablet and its successors (models that retained the same screen size but improved the underlying hardware) were so successful that Apple had sold 100 million iPads by mid-2012. Other companies tried to get in on that success with tablets running the Android operating system. They struggled to match the iPad's sales, but finally hit on a solution: Undercut Apple's pricing by making smaller, cheaper tablets.

While the iPad and its 9.7-inch (24.6-centimeter) screen is too large to hold in one hand, 7-inch (17.8-centimeter) tablets like the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire have proven the appeal of a smaller, lighter tablet that can be easily managed single-handedly. It's a popular form factor for reading e-books and browsing the Web. It's lighter, and it's cheaper.

Apple's Steve Jobs famously called 7-inch (17.8-centimeter) tablets "terrible" in a late 2010 Apple earnings call.

But things have changed. On October 23, 2012, Apple announced the iPad Mini, a 7.9-inch (20.1-centimeter) tablet priced at $330. This time, Apple isn't creating a new product category -- it's gunning for one that's already a proven success.

The iPad Mini sticks closely to Apple's larger iPad design. The screen maintains a 4:3 aspect ratio, so existing iPad apps will look just fine on the Mini. The tablet even uses components that once powered older iPads, but the body of the small tablet is much thinner and lighter than Apple's full-size tablet. In fact, the iPad Mini is even lighter than the Amazon Kindle Fire and Google Nexus 7, despite being an overall larger device.

Over the next few pages, we'll dive into the iPad Mini's design, its hardware, how it differs from other tablets on the market, and why Apple decided mini tablets weren't so bad, after all.