Apple Strikes Back: Smaller IPad, Bigger Stakes
The Mini is more than just a smaller iPad; it's Apple's declaration to its competitors: "The tablet market is ours, and you can't have it. Game on."
The Cupertino, Calif.-based company has enjoyed unprecedented success with the iPad, creating a new market from the ground up when it launched in 2010. Call it the tablet market, the post-PC era, whatever you fancy, but Apple was enjoying its benefits as creator and only participant. Competitors like Samsung and Toshiba failed to match the iPad with efforts like the Galaxy Tab and Thrive devices, and it seemed for a while as if no company could find a way to put even a small dent in Apple's tablet dominance.
However, over the past year Apple has seen its pockets picked by smaller, cheaper tablets serving the market the iPad wasn't reaching. The Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet and most recently Google's Nexus 7 have all emerged as strong alternatives to Apple's high-powered device. Although no single one of these devices on its own comes close to matching the sales of the iPad, together they have put a glaring spotlight on the hole in Apple's tablet lineup.
Some analysts believed an iPad Mini would never happen because of Steve Jobs' declaration that 7-inch tablets were "dead on arrival." But Apple's ego isn't so large that it will leave money on the table, and besides, Jobs never said anything about 7.9-inch tablets. Senior vice president of industrial design Jony Ive and his team went into Apple's labs and have emerged with a device that's a complete home run, and what made yesterday's announcement even more fun is that everyone at the company seems to know it.
At an entry price of $330, the iPad Mini is a bit more expensive, but still much closer to the ballpark of Amazon's Kindle Fire offerings, Barnes & Noble's Nook tablets and Google's Nexus 7. It's true, the iPad Mini isn't the barn burner that many had hoped it would be, but it's so far superior to its supposed competition that it doesn't need to dive fully into the price war of the low-end tablet market.
One needs to look no further than the iPad Mini keynote to see a direct comparison of the device against the strongly reviewed and hot selling Nexus 7. Senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller undressed Google's tablet in front of a crowd of salivating spectators. He highlighted the difference in surface area displays -- the iPad Mini's is over a third larger in square inches -- and demonstrated how much more visible Web pages are on Apple's new tablet. Hint: it's a lot.
The display is far from the only area where the Mini surpasses its rivals. A side-by-side look verses a Nook or a Fire is like looking at a prototype from a lab versus a finished product. If you like the feel of plastic, the Mini is not the device for you: its price may be low, but its design and feel are unmatched. It's made of the same aluminum and glass materials as Apple's other trademark products -- at a hair over 7-millimeters thick and less than 0.7 pounds.
The Mini stands head-and-shoulders above the competition in terms of design, but that's not the main reason it's the clear choice in the low-end tablet market. That distinction belongs to the incredible app library the Mini will boast from the very first day that it hits stores shelves.
Apple's App Store has more than 275,000 apps designed specifically for tablets, not programs scaled up to fit a larger display. The Mini benefits from the strong foundation of iOS, with its app availability, familiarity and ease of use, while other tablets struggle to build an ecosystem on customized versions of aging Android software.
That doesn't mean that Apple has completely shut down the market for devices like the Kindle and Nook tablets. There is still enough of a price difference between Apple's new tablet and those devices for Amazon and Barnes & Noble to do some good business.
However, maybe it's time re-categorize these devices, because when you compare a Nexus 7, Fire or Nook to the iPad Mini there is a clear difference. One is a full functioning small-sized tablet, while the others are content consumption devices with a Web browser. Many will be content with the latter, but with a lower price, the Mini is not far from reach.
Of course, the Mini has its detractors. Many believe it too closely blurs the line between the iPad and the iPod Touch -- that it's a bad idea altogether -- but that's not the case. There's a clear market for smaller-sized tablets and Apple created a device that not only fits into it perfectly but raises the bar to a new level. Still, others say the Mini is still too expensive to compete in the low-end market -- and time will tell.
There will be consumers who don't like Apple and there will be buyers who want to spend less. There wasn't one executive at Google, Amazon or Barnes & Noble with a smile on their face after the keynote, and that should tell you all you need to know about whether the Mini was a good idea.
Apple finally has a horse in the race in small tablet game: it's a thoroughbred, and betting against it would be a big mistake. ♦
Categories: Gadgets & Gear