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updated 10/24/2012 8:20:00 AM ET 2012-10-24T12:20:00

Apple yesterday (Oct. 23) launched its much-anticipated iPad mini, a device offering most of the benefits of its full-size counterpart for less. The new device could accelerate in-school iPad programs that are popping up across the country as school districts turn to lower-cost tablets for individual students rather than classroom computers.

"We're already starting to talk about our next rollout around our district," Andrew Marcinek, instructional technology specialist for Massachusetts' Burlington School District, told TechNewsDaily. Burlington has 1,100 iPad 2 devices in the high school — one for each student —  and is expanding its 1:1 iPad program to the district's middle and elementary schools.

During yesterday's announcement, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that iPads are available in more than 2,500 schools in the U.S. In the second quarter of this year, iPads outsold  Mac computers  by a 2 to 1 margin, and the shift to tablets is expected to grow. Schools will spend as much as $162 billion on tablets by 2017, double today's budget, according to research firm NPD DisplaySearch.

"The new iPad [mini] could become our primary tool for the classroom," Marcinek said. The lowest priced iPad mini will sell for $329, which represents about an 18 percent savings over the iPad 2 at $399.

But it's not just the price that appeals to the school district.

[SEE ALSO: Why the iPad mini Could Be Better for You ]

"The smaller version would work nicely for little hands," Marcinek said. The district has used iPads in the lower grades and the device has been a bit cumbersome, he said. The mini is about half the weight of a full-size iPad, equivalent to an ordinary pad of paper. The 7.9-inch display offers a better fit for young hands without sacrificing much in the way of display size. Resolution, battery life and durability are also important, he said. The  iPad mini  matches the resolution and battery life of the iPad 2.

Marcinek said that today's launch could have a big impact on schools across the country. But funding may still be a big question. Burlington is not a rich school, falling somewhere in the middle, he said.

The first question he always hears from other administrators is, "How do you pay for it?"

"Burlington's superintendent of schools Eric Conti believes technology expenditures should be like purchasing electricity," Marcinek said. "It should be a line item that no one questions because technology is an imperative for students' futures."

© 2012 TechNewsDaily

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