Apple’s understanding of the target market for the iPad mini has to be a complex process. But it surely involves a keen understanding of the competitive environment and what strategies competitors will use. Now that we’ve seen how some tablets have failed against the iPad, new strategies are emerging. That, in turn, dictates Apple’s response.
The current thinking amongst the Apple acolytes, as I understand it, is that the pure tablet metaphor is what makes the iPad so successful. The whole design philosophy of the iPad, its iOS, the gestures, dispensing with a physical keyboard and a need for a stylus, is that we want to move away from the encumbrances of the classic PC. Simplicity and security supported by an extensive product infrastructure (books, music) reigns supreme.
Some companies have tried to take Apple on directly. For example, the HP Touchpad and Motorola Xoom didn’t have the infrastructure. Next generation competitors are taking a better approach. The Amazon Kindles are focusing on infrastructure and a handy size for book reading. Microsoft is focusing on business and leveraging the appeal that it has had in the past for MS Office and Windows. Hence, the more visible need for a keyboard. Google is combining the opening Apple previously left in the 7-inch size with its own product infrastructure, Google Play.
So if you’re an Apple executive, it’s all about sizing up, like a chess player, where the threats are likely to come from and designing new product strategies to meet those threats. That goes a long way towards explaining the design and pricing of the iPad mini and the brisk emergence of the iPad 4 -- which has angered some customers. (See below.)
Where does education come into all this? Perhaps not so much. And with that, I have several stories below in the Tech News Debris that shed some light on the whole affair. It gets very interesting indeed.
Tech New Debris
With Apple’s product announcements and the earnings report, there was a lot going on this week. Some of the technical news debris was related to all that, but some was, as always, off the beaten path. Here we go...
I’ve seen a bunch of reviews of the Microsoft Surface. They’re easy to find. But from the perspective of the Mac customer, you can’t do better than see how David Pogue reacted over at the New York Times. “Sleek Tablet, but Clumsy Software.”
On the other extreme, if you want a really deep review, you also cannot do better than AnandTech. “The Windows RT Review.” An awesome piece of work by Vivek Gowri and Anand Lal Shimpi.
Regarding Apple’s announcement of the new iMacs, it’s always good to get a refresher on the Core i5 and i7 series, especially the differences between the desktop and mobile versions. For example, I consider Intel’s Hyper-threading to be an important feature to look for, and Andrew Cunningham points out: “There is no Core i5 desktop processor with Hyper-threading.” And that’s reason enough to always go for the i7 in an iMac. Here’s the full background at ars technica , “Core i5 or Core i7 -- does your computer need the extra juice?”
If I had the time, I wanted to write this next article. But Sascha Segan beat me to it and was probably more charming than I could have been. Highly recommended, not just for the content, but for Mr. Segan’s delightful wording: “Why Angry iPad 3 Owners Are Being Stupid.”
Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, the very traditional and useful “first sale doctrine” does not apply to ebooks. (The first sale doctrine says that you, as first purchaser of any physical product, have the right to, in turn, sell it to someone else.) As a result, “You Don’t Own the Books on Your Kindle.” Or, I surmise, ebooks on your iPad and iBooks for that matter.
By now, you must have seen Apple’s winsome iPad mini commercial with the song “Heart and Soul.” What makes the ad so cool is the subtle reference, perhaps, to Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia in the movie Big, as they dance to that tune on the giant keyboard in FAO Schwarz in New York. Homage.
Naturally, there is always room for a little playfulness with that kind of ad, and who better than Conan O’Brien to do it? “Watch Conan’s Parody of Apple’s First iPad Mini Commercial.”
Think about those kangaroo pockets that doctors have on their white lab coats and you’ll realize the iPad mini may just be the perfect size. And it’s not just doctors. Pilots and soldiers may also find the iPad mini perfect for those oversize cargo pants pockets. Here’s the glimmer of things to come: “Why physicians will prefer an iPad mini: It’s pocketable.”
My readers may have concluded that I am passionate about children, education and the opportunities that the iPad present. Of course, in accordance with the current thinking by some that money is more important than anything, Forbes makes the suggestion that the prospects for the iPad mini in education are secondary. Advertising, rather, is the key. (Sorry, I had to point this article out. I didn’t intend to get you feeling ill.)
The one interesting thing I did see in that article was that Apple may have perceived that competitive pressures in the future, from all sides, may have dictated the design of the iPad mini such that the educational prospects fell to the bottom of the list. Or dropped off completely. If so, that’s so very sad.
But there’s more.
Also at Forbes, there is an interesting analysis by Panos Mourdoukoutas who suggests that there are market forces that will cause Apple to lose the tablet war. While none of us really believe that, there is one tidbit on analysis that intrigues me, namely that if you take Apple on directly, you’ll lose. However, if you hammer away at Apple’s strategic weaknesses, you can make a living. Here’s the salient quote:
The bottom line: The tablet market is rapidly becoming a fractionalized market whereby different tablet models become hardware and software ‘bundles,’ serving different segments. This means that Apple has to give [sic] battles on many different fronts — where the attackers have an edge. That’s why it will lose this war.”
What he’s saying is that if Apple stops building the very most expensive, premium tablet and tries to compete in any one segment, the iPad product line will get fragmented. Conversely, the sum of the competing, fragmented markets will be enough to dissolve Apple’s top ranking in market share. So Apple has no choice but to maintain its premium product philosophy. Phil Schiller's passion is, in fact, a necessity.
Amazon proved last Christmas with the Kindle Fire that sub-markets, not covered by Apple, are ripe, and other companies are likely to use the same strategy.
For the sake of completeness, here is some additional commentary on the prospects for iPad mini in education. The gist of all these articles, taken together, is that education, especially K-12, is just going to have to make do, pick the most affordable products, and muddle through. The overall tablet market is so heated right now that schools cannot expect any one tablet maker to do anything but pay lip service to education, advertise some wins and offer tempting discounts. Then, take it from there.