[caption id="attachment_14004" align="aligncenter" width="618"] iPad Mini with Retina Display.[/caption] For years, Apple followed the same basic procedure whenever it launched a new hardware product: announce a release date well in advance, flood the traditional media channels with ads, and prepare for a long line of Apple Faithful to assemble at stores on opening day. But Apple hasn’t followed that playbook with its new iPad Mini with high-resolution Retina Display. Instead, the company has opted for a much softer online launch, without all the in-store Sturm und Drang—which seems, to put it mildly, very out of character. But there’s also a method behind Apple’s unorthodox decision: by releasing the tablets online in the middle of the night, Apple could blunt an opening-week supply crunch. For the past few weeks, rumors persisted that Apple wouldn’t have massive quantities of the iPad Mini with Retina Display available at launch, possibly due to manufacturing-chain issues with producing enough high-resolution screens. A quieter launch won’t necessarily eliminate those problems, but it could buy Apple a little more time to put enough devices in the channel before the holiday shopping crunch truly begins. A few hours after the shopping site for the new iPad Mini went live, availability to ship stood at 1-3 business days for the WiFi-only 16GB and 32GB models, and 5-10 business days for the WiFi-only 64GB and 128GB models. Shipping for models with both a WiFi and cellular connection stood at 5-10 business days. That’s in contrast to some previous iPad and iPhone launches, when supply crunches extended shipping times to a few weeks. The 7.9-inch iPad Mini with Retina Display features an A7 chip with 64-bit architecture; battery life is 10 hours. It joins the latest-generation iPad (dubbed the “iPad Air”), which boasts the same processor in addition to an M7 motion co-processor; the larger tablet, 20 percent thinner than its immediate predecessor, weighs a pound. While the iPad Mini remains a popular device in Apple’s portfolio, it faces some stiff competition this holiday season from Amazon’s latest Kindle Fire HD and Google’s Nexus 7, both of which match or undercut Apple’s mini-tablet offerings on price. Amazon and Google also offer extensive libraries of streaming content and apps. That’s not to say Apple’s own touch-screens face an existential threat—but it remains to be seen whether, in such a crowded environment, the power of the Apple brand can turn even a whisper-quiet launch into a massive product hit.   Image: Apple