ROME – Shoppers got their hands on Apple's new iPad mini Friday, launched with less fanfare than previous incarnations amid talk it might have come too late to the 7-inch tablet computer market.
The ghost of Apple founder Steve Jobs hung in the air two days after Halloween as the company tried to lure shoppers with a slim black tablet computer it insists is more than just a shrunken version of its wildly popular iPad series.
The event stirred little of the excitement associated with previous Apple products however, generating only small lines of devotees at flagship stores around the world.
In suburban Milan, a couple of dozen such fans were treated to coffee and buns offered by the local Apple store.
"I got up at 6:30 in the morning but it was worth it," said Daniele Messi, a 20-year-old marketing student who was first in line there.
"I decided to buy it even though I already have all of Apple's other products, I love them," he added.
Earlier in the day, around 300 people had queued up outside Apple's main store in Tokyo, some wearing fancy dress, to buy, or at least touch the new product.
Around 20 people had camped out overnight outside the shop, but the queue disappeared quickly following an initial rush.
In tech-mad Singapore numbers were well down on previous launches, while in Hong Kong around 30 people queued to collect their pre-ordered devices.
There was nothing like the days-long queues for the new generation iPhone 5 in Sydney.
"Looks like most ordered it online," one person in the small Hong Kong queue told reporters.
Nevertheless, acolytes said they were impressed by the physical charms of the 7.9 inch (20-centimeter) touchscreen device that weighs less than half the original iPad, at just 308 grams (0.68 pounds).
"It's completely different," insisted Ayano in Tokyo, who did not give her surname.
"It is thinner and very light. Look, you can hold it in one hand."
Around three dozen markets in Asia and Europe, as well as the United States, were due to see launches of the Wi-Fi only version on Friday.
Market analyst Loo Wee Tech, head of Consumers Electronics Research said the new tablets "failed to excite" a sector that has grown accustomed to ever more amazing gadgets over the years.
"What iPad Mini offers is a form factor that is useable with one hand and fits easily into most females' handbags," Loo noted.
'iPad Mini to be season's top seller'
He forecast that despite structural liabilities that included "the lack of readily available and reliable Internet access and wifi hotspots," Apple would move a lot of its product.
"We expect the iPad mini to be the best selling electronic product for the year end holiday season.
Consumers will be glad to pick up an attractively priced Apple branded tablet and Apple will further dominate the tablets market," he said.
Canada's RBC Bank has estimated that Apple could sell six million iPad Minis by the end of the year.
Ahead of the launch analysts had warned the starting price of $329 might seem steep to budget-minded shoppers who can buy Google Nexus or Amazon Kindle tablets for $199.
But analysts at Sterne Agee brokerage noted that similar doubts greeted the introduction of the iPod nano, but that it ended up selling well.
"Devotion to Apple products has been compared to a religion," said an analyst from the US-based firm Gartner.
"But, I don't think Apple will be as dominant in the seven-inch tablet space because they let the Kindle Fire and the Nexus get a foothold in the market at a considerably lower price."
In Seoul there was a 200-strong queue, some of whom had camped out overnight, with one man telling AFP that Apple was a better buy for his 4-year-old daughter.
"I prefer iPad to Android devices because it has more content for children like my daughter," he said in reference to a rival smartphone operating system developed by Google.
Die-hard fans also noted there was less buzz this time around.
"It's not surprising people wait for hours to be the first to get new Apple devices, but now the hype doesn't seem to be as big as before," said Kim Tae-Min.
Mark Ranson, associate analyst at the global technology research firm Ovum, said the iPad mini marked something of a departure because it was an instance of Apple following the crowd, rather than setting the pace.
"This reactive nature of the iPad mini launch was largely the cause of the more muted public response," he said before adding that increasing competition was squeezing Apple.
"Samsung's continued growth, Google's further push into the device market with its Nexus line of products and the strong performance of Amazon's Kindle Fire, are all conspiring to bridge the gap between Apple and its competitors," he noted.
Apple's senior vice president for marketing Phil Schiller helped unveil the iPad mini last week, insisting that it was an entirely new design and not "just a shrunken down iPad".
Like later versions of the original iPad, the new Apple tablet features rear- and front-facing cameras, and also has stereo speakers.
© 1994-2012 Agence France-Presse