After months of speculation, it now seems almost certain that Apple will release an iPad Mini. The diminutive iPad will have a 7.85-inch, 1024×768 (163 PPI) 4:3 screen, and if parts leaked by Chinese suppliers are to be believed the device will look like an iPad-iPhone lovechild (pictured above).
The iPad Mini will have one purpose: To stem the loss of tablet sales caused by the rebellious 7-inch Amazon Kindle Fire and Google Nexus 7.
To do this, the iPad Mini must look/feel better than the Android tablets, have a better range of apps/content — and, as a sweetener, have a better hardware spec and cost less.
Design & hardware
Judging by the leaked chassis, and the relatively low-resolution screen, the iPad Mini will roughly the same height and length as the Nexus 7, but thinner and lighter — probably around 7.5mm thick and 270 grams. The Nexus 7 on the other hand is 10.5mm thick and weighs 340 grams — the iPad Mini will have a slightly larger screen (7.8 vs. 7 inches diagonal), and yet it’ll be 30% thinner and lighter. (The Kindle Fire is 11.4mm and 413g, incidentally.)
Instead of leading the pack spec-wise, like the iPad 3 $629.00 at Apple Store, think of the iPad Mini as an iPad Air. If it really does weigh 270g, the Mini it will be well under half the weight of the full-size iPad 2 and 3 — in fact, it’ll be around the same size and weight as Amazon’s e-ink Kindle Keyboard. The iPad Mini will be the lightest, easy-to-hold content consumption device on the market. Don’t expect it to have amazing battery life, or anything more than 512MB of RAM and last-year’s A5 SoC — like the 7-inch Android tablets, the iPad Mini will be nice, but have plenty of space for improvement (like a Retina model next year!)
If there’s one point that the rumor mill can’t agree on it’s price. Will Apple go toe-to-toe with Google and Amazon and sell the entry-level iPad Mini at $200, or will it start at $250? We should also consider the recent rumor that Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet could enter the market at $200, too.
Google and Amazon both produce their 7-inch tablets at cost, relying on app and content sales to turn a profit. Apple, with its supply chain dominance and economies of scale, could actually sell the iPad Mini for $200 and still make a profit — but the margin would be a lot smaller than Apple’s used to. Realistically, given the insane gravitas of Apple’s brand, the company could probably price the Mini at $250 and still compete with the Android tablets — especially with the size of Apple’s content library.
Apps and content
The key selling point for 7-inch tablets is content consumption — playing games, surfing websites, and watching TV/movies. The Kindle Fire $199.00 at Amazon is basically a glorified Amazon shopping basket, and the Nexus 7 has a giant Play Store widget front and center. These devices are too big to carry around as phones (and don’t have cellular radios, anyway), and too small and underpowered to perform content creation tasks.
In short, Apple’s content library dwarfs that of Google, both in terms of apps (and tablet-specific apps!), and multimedia. Amazon again can’t compete with Apple on apps, but its library of TV shows and movies is comparable to iTunes. Apple’s biggest challenge in this arena is Amazon Prime, which gives Kindle Fire users free, instant access to thousands of TV shows, movies, books for $79 per year.
Apple easily has Google beat, then, but it may have to debut a subscription service to compete with Amazon. To be honest, we’ve been expecting some kind subscription service from Apple for a long time — primarily to underpin an Apple iTV, but a subscription streaming service would also be a huge deal for the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and iPad Mini.
The current rumor is that Apple will launch a subscription service at Christmas — which would also be my guess for the iPad Mini’s launch date. Maybe the iPad Mini will actually be a remote control for the Apple iTV, much like Google’s recently announced fiber TV and the Nexus 7. Hmm…
There might be a sliver of hope for Android, though. For the first time in many years, Apple is being forced to react to the market, rather than blazing trails and creating entirely new market segments. Ever since the launch of the first iPad, Cupertino (and Steve Jobs) has claimed that a small-screen iPad Mini is antithetical to the Apple Experience — and yet here we are 30 months later, with the Fire and Nexus 7 selling millions of units, and Apple on the verge of releasing its own 7-inch tablet.
For the first time, Apple’s offering will be compared to the Android tablets, rather than the other way around. For the first time, rather than building something that came to Steve Jobs in an idealistic, unicorn-filled dream vision, Apple must react to what what the consumer wants. In some ways, following in someone’s footsteps is easier — you can see what the competition has done right/wrong, and improve on it. As numerous non-Apple smartphone and tablet makers have proven over the last few years, though, it can be incredibly hard to draw level, step out from the shadows, and begin to bushwhack your own path.
As much as I’d like Apple to fail, I have the nagging suspicion that the company’s industrial design wizards won’t have any problem building the ultimate content consumption device. Instead of treating the Fire and Nexus 7 as competitors, Apple will see them as rough-edged prototypes to infinitely improve upon. Rather than being compared to the 7-inch Android slates, Apple will, as it is inimitably wont to do, produce an iPad Mini that instantly becomes the de facto content consumption device.
[Image credit: iMore