Apple hopes smaller iPad Pro will get you excited about tablets again

The iPhone maker is trying hard to make people fall in love with the iPad again. Its latest attempt: Let them do more things with it, in a smaller package.

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Apple is hoping smaller iPads will give its tablet line a boost.

Scott Stein/CNET

Apple's new strategy for grabbing business customers: go small.

That doesn't seem like the obvious choice when dealing with giant corporations and other groups who might want a tablet focused on productivity. But Apple has shrunk its hulking 12.9-inch iPad Pro, released in November, to 9.7 inches to appeal to more people.

The device will start at $600 for a 32-gigabyte version, and run all the way up to $900 for a 256-gigabyte version. It's available March 31.

"So powerful and so capable, it truly is the future of personal computing," said Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, during an event Monday at the company's corporate headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Lately, people have fallen out of love with tablets. The entire market has taken a hit, especially since phone screens have gotten bigger. Apple hasn't been immune. iPad sales have been in free fall for the past two years. Apple hoped the first iPad Pro would buoy sales by attracting business users, but it hasn't caught on. In the December quarter, unit sales tumbled 25 percent to 16.1 million. That marked the eighth consecutive quarter iPad sales have fallen from the previous year.

Diving even deeper into the lucrative world of corporate customers could be one way to give Apple's lagging business a jolt. Injecting the device with more practical smarts, like being able to view two apps at once or allowing it connect to a stylus, was a good way to do that. The stylus, which the company has dubbed the Apple Pencil, is also designed to appeal to creative types like artists or graphic designers.

Competitors like Google have the same idea. In December, the company released the Pixel C, a hybrid laptop and tablet aimed at business users (C stands for convertible). It comes with a detachable keyboard and is powered by Google's Android mobile software. For the newest version of the software, released to developers earlier this month, Google allowed a way to use two apps at once, just like the iPad Pro does.

But with this announcement, it seems like Apple realized something else: Maybe some people just don't want a big-ass screen. (The company also announced its first smaller sized iPhone in more than two years, the 4-inch iPhone SE.)

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Hands-on with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro
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The newest feature is a tool called True Tone, which adjusts the color of the display depending on the lighting of the room. The idea is to give the screen a warmer or cooler color tone, just like paper would look in different environments. The tablet also has palm-rejection software, so you can put your hands on the screen if you're drawing.

It's also got a 12-megapixel camera and shoots 4K high-definition video. The tablet is available in silver, gold, space grey and, for the first time for, rose gold.

One group Apple is targeting with the new tablet is Windows users, said Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing. He stated there 600 million PCs in use today that are more than five-years-old. For Windows users, "many of them will find it's their ultimate PC replacement," Schiller said.

CNET's Shara Tibken contributed to this report.

See all of the news from Apple's March 21 event.

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