Case of the mini iPad

With October 23rd coming up fast and the rumor mills suggesting that Apple is going to be hosting a media event to introduce a new member to the iPad family I thought it was my turn to throw my thoughts out there. The anticipated iPad “mini” (or “air”) is widely regarded as being a 7.85″ screened little brother to the current iPad, an attempt to share in the success of the Kindle and Nexus 7″ tablets.

A change in the name

To me, the most obvious indication that the product family was increasing came with the release of the latest iPad back in March. At the time Apple chose to move away from the naming schemes of the iPhone, and shift back to the naming strategy for the iPod. The iPad would not be referred to as the iPad 3, but just “the new iPad”. Using a number to represent revision is a easy way to allow consumers to value a new product release, however, it breaks down completely if you have more that one product edition – in the case of the iPods; the shuffle, the nano, and the classic. By dropping this from the iPad it allows the iPad family to grow.

7″ tablets are DOA

However, reducing the size of the screen seems to fly in the face of the contention that Steve Jobs put forth back in 2010, “The 7-inch tablets are tweeners: too big to compete with a smartphone, and too small to compete with an iPad, are going to be DOA.” Now at the time some of this was true, but most of it was just marketing – as he had done so often previously (see iPod video playback). [NOTE: whenever Jobs took an aggressive against a particular product feature, you were to _expect_ it in a couple years]

Digging a little deeper into the time period I want to note that Jobs’ theory was not totally without merit within the context of time. The release of the iPad ushered a new wave of computing, a “post-PC” era – but it has not come without a fight. The last few years Apple has constantly fought against a tide of perception that the iPad was for consumption only – couldn’t be used for anything other than reading, watching, or gaming. For the most part Apple has won this fight showing off practical applications in the areas of art, eduction, healthcare, etc. Today you would be hard to find too many areas where the iPad is not being used.

A smaller iPad would have only made the task harder. Take a look at what is reported as most successful 7″ tablet, the Kindle Fire. Its primary intent is to act as a eReader, yes it has other options but the users primarily turn to it to read books. Apps have not yet been made popular and web traffic is far lower than what we see with the iPad. Primarily it is a consumption device, at least until apps start to take advantage of the opportunities available. I propose that a 7″ iPad, back in 2010, would have been viewed as a large iPod more than an entirely new computing environment. So, the 10″ screen made the best product back in 2010 but the world has changed. I don’t think consumers are as stuck with the older perceptions that smaller devices are to be used for consumption only – just no one has done it yet. I believe that the iPad has grown iOS out of a ‘mobile OS’ and onto equal footing with Mac OS and Windows. Now when developing new “desktop” software, the iPad is one of the devices I wonder if I should target. Which is what I think Apple wanted. Now it is time to expand and take in the market previously held by the old PDAs (dare I say Newtons).

So what do I expect

I would expect most of what I am hearing out of the rumor sites. A 7.85″ screen iPad with the new dock connector and data plan options – smaller and lighter, but essentially the iPad. Expect an A5 chip, much like the iPod Touch in an effort to keep heat and costs down and battery life up. I would also expect the base model to be non-retina, also in an attempt to keep costs down.

Base cost I would estimate at $299 – though I think Apple would be smart to push to the $249 if possible. A high-end $349 model is likely expected to make a showing with a retina screen.

The winners here: education. This brings the cost of a personal computer down to something affordable for schools and manageable for students. It also brings enough power to make it useful for the classroom. Though I do think it will be popular across the board.

The name, I like Grubers proposal of the ‘iPad air’ though I don’t think Apple will dilute the “air” brand – keeping that for the MacBooks. The “nano” is used by the iPod family, so count that out. The most obvious is “mini”, though I hope they can do better.

I almost expect an update to the standard iPad, moving it to the new dock connector and possibly upgrading the processor to the newer A6. I have not completely convinced myself of that yet, but it makes sense and it has been almost 9 months since that last release. It could just be a dock connector change, it could be just an introduction of an adapter – but I don’t count out Apple’s desire to break rules to do something they deem right and go for a full product update. I am not sure they want to do a minor update now and another larger update in March ’13 – think they will just combine them – just a choice between now or later.

Where I think Apple missed

Now, I like the idea of the iPad family of products and think a smaller iPad makes a lot of sense, as does the larger iPad. However, I think Apple missed an opportunity with the iPod Touch. As I have mentioned in the past, I don’t think the iPod Touch fits as an “iPod”, today it seems more in line with the iPad (phone without the phone) – and that was what I was expecting. I think the product is really just lacking an optional data plan – WiFi and 4G LTE options. Could be size? Could be heat? Could be battery? — but I do continue expect this at some point soon.

Trims and focuses the iPod lineup again on pure musical devices, and I think simplifies the iPad family to three categories: pocket, mini, note pad.

I can see that they held the iPod announcements with the iPhone to fill that out that presentation – and will let the iPad mini stand in its own spot light. The iPhone is now a mature product and doesn’t need the same attention, which I think was shown this year more so than any previous year – thinking back to the iPod in year 5, we had a complete family line-up to announce.

I expect the transition of the iPod Touch to the iPad family lineup to occur next year. At which time I am also hoping the iPod nano to take on the actual iOS interface with GPS, Maps, and more additional Apple controlled apps – though no App Store. One day this could turn into a iPhone nano?

One thought on “Case of the mini iPad

  1. Great post!

    (a) I think they’ll keep the name simply “iPad” — no modifier — so as to prevent dilution of the iPad name. Informally it will get a nickname but formally there will not be anything more than “new”.
    (b) I don’t think there will be a retina upgrade. Standard res across the board, retina on next revision.

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