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Apple unwraps $329 iPad mini

The new iPad mini, right, and fourth generation

The new iPad mini, right, and fourth generation iPad. (Getty Images) Credit: The new iPad mini, left, and fourth generation iPad. (Getty Images)

Apple took the wraps off an 8-inch tablet Tuesday in its biggest product move since the debut of the iPad two years ago, launching a smaller version of the gadget into a market staked out by Amazon.com and Google.

The 7.9-inch "iPad mini" marks Apple's first foray into the smaller-tablet segment. Apple also announced a fourth-generation full-sized iPad with improvements in graphics and processing speeds, just two days before Microsoft is due to show off its own "Surface" tablet.

Apple hopes to beat back their charge onto its home turf of consumer electronics hardware, while safeguarding its lead in the 10-inch tablet space that even deep-pocketed rivals like Samsung Electronics have found tough to penetrate.

Amazon's Kindle and Google's Nexus 7 have grabbed a chunk of the lower end of the tablet market and proved demand for a pocket-sized slate exists.

That has forced Apple into a space it has avoided and at times derided, analysts say.

A smaller tablet would mark the first device to be added to Apple's compact portfolio under Chief Executive Tim Cook, who took over from co-founder Steve Jobs just before his death.

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