How about that curve ball?

Most of us figured that Apple would release an iPad mini at the company’s special event. No one, however, expected to see the premature death of the third-generation iPad, and unveiling of the iPad 4. Throw in the iPad mini’s less than ideal pricing structure, and the continued sale of the iPad 2, and it becomes clear that iPad buyers have a tough decision to make.

So which iPad is right for you? Take a look.

The iPad 4

iPad 4

iPad 4

On the surface, the fourth-generation iPad looks no different than the iPad 2 and iPad 3. On the inside, however, much has changed.

The tablet includes a dual-core A6X processor with quad-core graphics. This makes it the speediest iPad ever produced. In addition, the tablet’s FaceTime HD Camera (1.2 MP) is the best on an iPad to date.

The iPad 4 is Apple’s new standard-bearer for tablets. Therefore, if you want to buy “the iPad” this is the one you should get.

Ideal for: business users, gamers, those that want the next big thing, and Retina display fanatics.

The iPad mini

iPad mini

iPad mini

When Apple announced the iPad mini, they spent a lot of time comparing it to the iPad 2. Apple explained, for example, that the iPad mini has the same 1024-by-768 resolution as the second generation tablet.

By comparing the iPad mini to a two-year-old tablet, however, Apple might have made it more difficult for it to find an audience.

For one, by giving the iPad mini an A5 processor, Apple has dated it almost from the start. This is the same processor that comes with the year-old iPhone 4S.

Additionally, releasing an iPad mini without a Retina display might make business sense since it lowered the tablet’s price, but that limitation might hurt it in the long run. After all, does anyone doubt that the next iPad mini will almost certainly have a Retina display?

iPad Prices

iPad Prices

Apple’s new tablet’s biggest hurdle, however, may be those “lower” prices.

With prices ranging from $329 to $659, the iPad Mini becomes the most expensive compact tablet in the market. More troublesome is when you compare its prices with those of the iPad 4.

For example, the 32GB iPad mini Wi-Fi + Cellular ($559) is just $150 less than the iPad 4 with the same capacity and connectivity ($729). And let us remember that the iPad 4 has a Retina display.

However, I also understand that not everyone wants a tablet with a 9-inch display. In particular, I’m pretty sure that the iPad mini will do quite well in schools and for those folks that want, or in the case of students, must read a lot. Not surprisingly, Apple highlighted those audiences during this week’s special event.

Ideal for: students, readers, and those that want a compact tablet.

The iPad 2

First introduced in March 2011, the iPad 2 avoided the chopping block and will remain on sale for the foreseeable future. Available in only one model, the 16GB, the iPad 2 is for those folks that want a “real” iPad, but have a budget to keep.

Ideal for: readers, those on a budget, and folks that don’t care about Retina displays.

For iPad 3 owners

The iPad 3

The iPad 3

For owners of the iPad 3, I feel for you. Not only did you get a raw deal when Apple announced your tablet’s demise, but you must also watch as the iPad 2 remains. In particular, I’m baffled as to why Apple pulled the iPad 3 from sale immediately.

Should you upgrade? With the iPad 4, you’ll get a better processor (an A6X versus the A5X), and a Lightning connector. Beyond that, the devices are very much the same. Still, I’m not a fool and understand that millions of iPad 3 buyers will be in line to ditch their “old” tablet for a new one.

I’m not sure the upgrade is worth it for iPad 3 owners. Keep in mind that the iPad 4 is Apple’s second tablet in a row that keeps the iPad 2′s original design. In other words, it might be best to hold off making a purchase until 2013.

Note: If you purchased an iPad 3 within the past 30 days, you might be able to replace it at no charge.

While I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple sell a ton of iPad Minis over the holiday season, I’m not quite sure that its long-term success is guaranteed. In particular, I’m worried that Apple has somewhat priced it out of the market, especially when you compare it to the iPad 4. Like all such matters, time will tell.

For more information on Apple’s special event, see AppAdvice Goes Hands-On With The iPad miniApple Posts On-Demand iPad Mini Event Video, and Apple’s New iPad Lineup: Prices, Specs And More.