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Where Does the iPad Mini Line Up Amongst Apple's Other Offerings?

Last month, when Apple announced the iPhone 5 and the new iPod Touch, their pricing seemed to preclude the long-rumored 7.85" iPad "Mini" or "Air" or whatever they end up calling it. I even went so far as to ask if Tim Cook had killed the iPad Mini in the crib. And yet the rumors persist, some incredibly detailed.

But let's take a look at the iOS universe and see if there's really a place for a smaller tablet. I've prepared a chart to show all the devices, excluding the iPad's optional 3G or LTE feature, because that doesn't really matter here.

Apple hits every price from $0 to $699 in hundred-dollar increments, with one $50 increment at the 32GB 4th generation iPod Touch. The overlapping prices are what interest us here. A company can offer similar products at the same price, but only if there is enough differentiation between them to make sense to the consumer. Otherwise, the product line is just a huge, jumbled mess -- and that isn't how Apple operates.

The iOS line doesn't have many price overlaps, but they are instructive. For $199, you can get either a 16GB iPhone 5, or an iPod Touch with the same memory. What's the difference? The phone gives you, duh, a phone -- but it also locks you into an expensive contract. Also, the iPod uses a cheaper (but still "Retina" density) screen, and an older, slower processor. So we have three points of differentiation.

$299 gets you an iPhone 5 with 32GB, or the new 5th generation iPod Touch. Again, same memory on both devices. Same screen on both devices, too. And the same A6 processor. The only differentiation is that one is a phone that comes with an expensive contract.

At $399 is where things get interesting. You can have the 64GB phone, the 64GB iPod, or the 16GB iPad tablet. We have two tiny devices with tons of storage versus a bigger device with comparatively little storage. You get the bigger screen, but you lose memory, the Retina Display, and the new A6 processor.

Where do you squeeze in a smaller iPad?

First off, two assumptions. The iPad Mini/Air/Nano/Whatevs will have the same 1024x768 resolution as the iPad 2. Those pixels would be packed into a smaller space, so the screen would be damn sharp -- but not Retina Display sharp. We also have to assume that it would use the same A5 processor and the same 16GB of storage space, so as not to destroy the buying case for the iPad 2. Apple might be tempted to cheap-out and limit the Mini to 8GB, but that's just not enough memory for a tablet.

At $249, Apple will already sell you the iPad Touch with the old processor. What is there to differentiate between the two devices? Buy the Mini you'd lose half the memory, but you'd gain the bigger-but-not-Retina screen and a faster A5 CPU -- is that a good model? It just might be.