Deciding about the iPad mini

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

At a media event this Tuesday, Apple is all but certain to announce a smaller version of the iPad, dubbed by the press as the "iPad mini" (and that's what I will call it for now).

For those of us who live within the Apple universe, the big questions are: "Who will want one? Will the product be a success?" For those who already own an iPhone and an iPad (as I do), the immediate need for an iPad mini will likely be minimal. For such users, a more relevant question may be: "For my next iPad purchase, will I rather have an iPad or an iPad mini?"

The ultimate answers to such questions should become clearer after Apple reveals the features and specs of the impending mini. While we're waiting, here are a few key points to ponder.

Media Event InviteWill the iPad mini be a bigger iPod touch or a smaller iPad?

To put it another way, will the smaller iPad be able to run iPad-optimized software? Or only iPhone software?

I strongly expect that the mini will run iPad-optimized software. The product is not going to be called the iPod touch mega. It's going to be an iPad…and that should mean it runs iPad-optimized software.

That said, there may be problems with some apps that look good on a 10-inch display but will feel cramped on a 7- or 8-inch device. I doubt this means Apple will introduce a third app format specific to the mini. Rather, I'm guessing that the resolution of the mini will allow for a simple scaling down of the current iPad display. As such, I expect that all current iPad apps will automatically run on the mini.

However this plays out, pay close attention here. These specs will likely be critical for comparing the relative merits of an iPad to an iPad mini.

Will Apple market the iPad mini as primarily for "content creation"?

An initial knock against the iPad was that it was only for content consumption, not content creation (e.g., actual work). However, as ably demonstrated by Apple's iWork apps for iOS, and continuing with numerous third-party productivity apps, this perception is wrong. These days, a more often asked question is: "Can the iPad serve as an substitute for a MacBook?" Increasingly, the answer is yes — at least for a subset of Mac users.

The arrival of a smaller iPad again raises this "consumption vs. creation" issue. Is a 7.x inch display too small for content creation? Does this mean Apple will (or should) market the mini as primarily a consumption device, taking direct aim at competitors such as Kindles and Nooks?

I believe the answer here is no. After all, Apple's iWork apps work on the iPhone as well as the iPad. If Apple believes these productivity apps are appropriate for the small iPhone display, they must certainly believe they can be used on the iPad mini. In my view, this makes the iPad mini a superior alternative to something like the Kindle Fire. The mini can be a fine ebook reader comparable to the Kindle, but much much better at everything else – from web surfing to email to productivity tasks.

In the end, the customer will be the final arbiter. If people use the mini for content creation, then that's the sort of device it will be.

What about a camera?

Over the past weeks, I've had the opportunity to spend time at a number of tourist attractions here in the Bay Area. Wherever I've been, I've seen people using an iPad as a camera. Not a lot of people, but definitely enough to take notice. It still strikes me as an odd sight. I can only assume that these people don't have an iPhone or an iPod touch in their pocket. If they have any phone camera at all, I assume they prefer the iPad because of non-camera factors — such as the iPad's integration with iCloud.

Does this mean that the iPad mini is likely to include a rear-facing camera? I will say no here. With its smaller size, the iPad mini will be less awkward to hold as a camera than an iPad. However, I believe Apple's decision will be based on two other more important criteria:

First, Apple will want to keep the price of the mini as low as they can afford to make it. Eliminating the rear camera will help. Second, the mini's primary immediate competition will be Kindle's and Nooks — which do not have a camera at all. This allows Apple to pass on the camera without worrying that it will cost them points in competitor comparisons.

Still, I expect the iPad mini will have a camera. It will be a "front-facing" FaceTime camera. FaceTime runs on every Mac and iOS device currently for sale. I don't see the new mini becoming the lone exception. Again, this will give the mini a leg up on the competition.

Will the iPad mini have unique features?

Will the iPad mini be little more than a smaller version of its iPad sibling? Or will it include special features not found on any other iOS device?

This is biggest unknown. As one example, the mini might come with new ebook-related features — so as to make the device more attractive to people who are otherwise considering a Kindle or Nook. This could also help carve out a niche for the mini separate from the iPad. I'm just not sure exactly what the specifics of such features might be. We'll find out — one way or the other — on Tuesday.

What will the iPad mini cost?

I've already written about the potential dilemma here: it's entirely possible that an iPad mini will sell for less than a 32GB iPod touch. If so, the big "loser" here is likely to be the iPod touch. But if touch sales plummet after the iPad mini arrives, I doubt Apple will lose any sleep over it. As John Gruber similarly pointed out, if customers are buying iPad minis instead of touches, Apple still gets the sale. At the end of the day, if everyone interested in buying a mobile device chooses an Apple product, it won't matter to Apple which one they choose.

A less conflicted plus for Apple is that the mini opens the door to a new segment of the market — those that want a smaller-sized and/or less expensive tablet than the current iPad. Just as Apple did with the iPod mini years ago, by expanding the iPad choices, Apple should extend its total market share.

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12 Comments Leave Your Own

iJack

“Is a 7.x inch display too small for content creation?”

Depends how exacting the content to be created is.  I managed to create content on the original 1984, B&W, low-rez, 9” Mac screen, including architectural drawings, specifications, etc.  With color, a higher resolution, and the right apps, it would be a relative breeze today, with the caveat that all content creation would be better done on a desktop Mac.

Ion_Quest

The key question should be:  What does the average iPad/iPhone developer earn for an app or game?  Do most iOS developers earn as much per hour as iDevice assembly line workers?

I realize that Apple/execs/users/investors could care less as long as more Apple hardware is sold—at controlled list price.  Carry on,,,

iJack

Why should that be the key question?  What difference would the answer to your question make to the rest of us non-developers?  If there is money to be made writing apps, then the apps will come,  If not, then they won’t, but a look at the history of iPad/iPhone/iPod apps indicates that we will see plenty of them.

Your remark that lumps in users with execs and investors is pretty lame, also.  Don’t all manufacturers of goods control the list price to some degree or other.

Dan

Surprised by people using their iPads as cameras? I can think of a few reasons why you shouldn’t:
• Not everyone has multiple iOS devices. Myself, I have a used iPod Touch I’d like to replace with one of these that has more space and makes content consumption easier. If you don’t have your DSLR handy and you want a photo, you use what you have.
• There is one app that I’ve seen that I’d love to have:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/my-measures-dimensions-pro/id450797313?mt=8
For doing survey work, this beats the hell out of sketching conditions and cramming dimensions on top of it for later use. I can’t think of any camera that would let me draw dimensions on top of photos like an iPad or the possible iPad Mini would.

Dan

“...if customers are buying iPad minis instead of touches, Apple still gets the sale…”

Thank you! Someone finally points out what I thought would be obvious. If apple’s all about getting people the best computing, etc. experience they can, why not make it easier for them on a larger display if they want?

Unless they’re worried the thinking apple runs along these lines:
http://dilbert.com/dyn/str_strip/000000000/00000000/0000000/100000/60000/9000/400/169488/169488.strip.gif

Peter

Rather, I’m guessing that the resolution of the mini will allow for a simple scaling down of the current iPad display.

So it will come with a file so you can file down your fingers.  Cool!

iJack

Didn’t you make that joke, once already?

Ion_Quest

iJack:  As with most aspects, Apple is even better than competitors at controlling prices.  The cheapest iPad is $499 at discounter Walmart—exactly the same as an Apple owned store.

A note to MacObserver.  I’m gone and won’t bother your readers with radical ideas any further.  Carry on with Apple worship.  Thanx.

iJack

Good luck finding those ions.

skipaq

I believe it will be priced in the $300-350 range.

Dorje Sylas

Where they taking photes or movies? Because they could have been shooting short movies. The iPad is a great platform for amateur family filming on fly editing when everyone gets back to the hotel room.  Even 30-second snippets in place of a few photos can create a decent film real in iMovie.

As to other iOS camera devices. First the iPod Touch 4th gen has crap cameras so why fumble around getting out the same or worse when your iPad is already out. Further keep in mind not everyone wants to deal with roaming charges on iPhones (especially people from overseas, dealing with the USs F-ed up cell networks) while being a tourist so it may actually spend much of the trip off. Thus iPad.

Sadly I think Apple is going to use the iPad 2s guts in the iPad Mini. If they use the same guts as the 5th Gen iPod Touch I’ll be shocked, shocked I tell you!

James S.

I want the mini because I use my iPad 3 a lot and find it heavy after a while. I also hate the sharp edge.  A smaller, easier to hold device would suit me much better.  Having a nice square edge like the iPhone 4 and 5 have would be much easier to hold as well.  I will switch if they do not compromise on key features (near retina screen at least, speed, etc.)  I can live without a camera if I must.

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