On Apple's weird iPad mini with Retina Display rollout

Let's be honest: Apple's rollout of the new iPad mini with Retina Display has been just plain weird. It caught many of us by surprise, but Apple isn't being coy for the reason for the soft launch - it's pretty clear they don't have the supply to meet demand.

The iPad mini with Retina Display was announced in October at a special event in San Francisco, where Apple unveiled the iPad Air, new MacBook Pros, new iLife and iWork applications, and formally unveiled the yet to be shipped Mac Pro. The iPad Air went on sale starting Friday, November 1st, with the iPad mini with Retina Display to be released later in November.

The question was when.

When Apple has introduced a hotly anticipated item in the past, it's typically announced when it will ship ahead of time, and that's certainly worked to its advantage: many Apple retail stores will garner long lines of consumers waiting hours before they open to be some of the first people to get the new item. Look at the rollout of the iPhone 5s, for example.

And this new iPad mini has been hotly anticipated since its introduction. The first-generation iPad mini won a lot of fans for its small size and it remains part of Apple's product line. But its lower-resolution screen and slower chip means that you have to make some compromises in performance and image quality.

The iPad mini with Retina Display, meanwhile, shows no compromises. It uses the blazing-fast A7 processor, the same one that powers the iPhone 5s and iPad Air - the first 64-bit processor designed for mobile hardware. And while it occupies a much smaller footprint than the iPad Air, its screen resolution is the same.

The first inclination we got that the iPad mini with Retina Display would be shipping today came late Monday, when news sites got word that Apple's Global Service Exchange (GSX) system - which Apple uses to communicate with retail stores and authorized technicians - had been updated with information that the sought-after new iPad mini would begin shipping today. Even then, it seemed inconceivable that Apple would soft launch such a hot commodity. Last night, even we at iMore were scratching our heads.

But soft launch it has.

Apple customers around the world noticed their local online Apple Stores going offline and then coming back online with the ability to order the iPad mini with Retina Display, hours before Apple officially announced it in a press release.

Without saying outright, Apple has explained the reason for the relatively low-key launch of the iPad mini with Retina Display. The press release announcing the launch quotes Apple senior VP of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller:

"We think customers will love both of these thin, light, powerful new iPads, and we're working hard to get as many as we can in the hands of our customers."

"We're working hard to get as many as we can" tells you everything you need to know. As was predicted in the run-up to the new device's release, availability for the new iPad mini seems quite constrained.

So constrained, in fact, that Apple is limiting its availability to its online store and through "Personal Pickup," its system that enables you to buy products through the Apple Store app or through the web site and arrange to pick it up at your local Apple retail store. Some product has also been diverted to the major US wireless carriers as well, so your local Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile stores may get a small inventory.

Obviously Apple will do whatever it takes to ramp up production as quick as it can, but if the iPhone 5s is any indication, the iPad mini with Retina Display may be a hot commodity for the weeks to come. So my best advice is to get your order in as soon as you can, especially if you're hoping to see one in time for Christmas.

Are you excited about the new iPad mini's launch? Is this the new iPad mini you've been waiting for? Or are there features you wish it had that you're disappointed aren't there? Sound off in the comments.

Peter Cohen