Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The iPad mini: larger tablet than other 7" tablets will make it more attractive to buyers, but price could inhibit others

I'm not sure I owe anyone a beer. A year ago, when the rumors first started that Apple might launch a small tablet, I expressed my doubts that Apple would pull the trigger. I was right in that no small tablet appeared for the holiday season last year. I was wrong that Apple wouldn't eventually launch a "mini".

But this new iPad really isn't a 7-inch tablet. With a display that is 7.9 inches in size, and a screen resolution that is exactly that of the second generation iPad, the new iPad mini is something in between. And that, I feel, will make it possibly a very attractive tablet choice for many consumers.

Apple also introduced a fourth generation iPad today, as well. But other than a faster chip, the gen 4 iPad really is not any different than the iPad I use every day. The reason for the launch was simply to get the iPad into the holiday shopping season.

With Tim Cook, pleasing Wall Street has increased in importance, it appears.

As for the new iPad mini, it certainly seems like a great product, with its bigger size, better OS (than the competition) and larger app store than other tablets. But the tablet also comes with a larger price tag, as well. One wonders if the price originally was going to be below the magic $300 mark, but was raised simply because other than the Kindle Fire, no real competition for the iPad has yet to emerge.

At $329 for the 16GB WiFi model, and $459 for 3G, the iPad mini is not a bargain.

But Apple learned long ago that being the low price leader generally means being the profitless assembler of other people's components. Apple is feeling no pressure to undercut anyone so long as the public continues to clammer for its products.

Publishers can all but ignore the new iPad mini and yet still benefit from it. Because it has the same display resolution as the second generation iPad, 1024 x 768 at 163 pixels per inch, media app developers need not compensate for the new tablet.

Going into today's presentation, I wondered if the best magazine and newspaper apps for the new tablet would be those that were designed for the iPhone. Digital magazines such as the British Journal of Photography's iPhone edition, which use Mag+ for both its tablet and smartphone editions, might be the answer for the new iPad mini. Or so I thought.

Now I'm not so sure.

At 7.9 inches, the new iPad mini is not so mini. This means that a natively designed magazine app might be just fine on the new tablet. But it might not, as well. Each publisher will have to decide this for themselves. I suppose it possible that a publisher could launch two differently designed iPad apps, with one specifically labeled as designed for the mini. It would be more work, of course, so only the design obsessed developer-publisher might go this route.

Apple's CEO Tim Cook also announced today that the company had sold its 100 millionth iPad. Approximately 40 percent of iPad sales are in the U.S., so it is pretty easy to figure you Apple's penetration of the market here. If the iPad mini proves a hit, media app developers might have to decide which display is their primary target: the retina display of the iPad, or the 7.9 inch iPad mini.

Replica makers, of course, don't have to worry about this. Most magazines that appear on smaller Android tablets are replicas – hard to read on a new iPad, impossible to read on a small Android tablet. Amazingly, Google has let this all happen, not doing much to make sure nicely designed publications are available on tablets running its system.

After the holiday season we'll see what kind of traction Apple can get with its new iPad mini, and whether launching a fourth generation iPad now will actually lead to a slowing down of sales of the larger tablet. There may be some risk here that by fragmenting its tablet offerings, and by launching a new original sized iPad now it will dampen the demand overall for its larger tablet.