iPad mini is more than just the sum of its hardware

Summary:Apple's new 7" tablet has been criticized for being overpriced relative to its competitors. But the device's value has nothing to do with its Bill of Materials.

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So the dust has settled on the iPad mini, and just about everyone has weighed in on the impact of Apple entering the 7" tablet market.

Well, except for me. 

The reaction to the device by the tech media has been mixed. Our ZDNet Editor in Chief, Larry Dignan, has stated that Apple may have missed an opportunity to annihilate the competition with a "death blow" by pricing the product significantly above the $199-$250 price point at the entry-level of $329.

My long-time friend and colleague and fellow Linux and Open Source enthusiast Steven J. Vaughn-Nichols believes that Google's Nexus 7 is a superior tablet for the money.

You know what I think? I think both of my respected colleagues need some reality orientation.

Here's the acid test, folks. If someone offered you either an iPad mini, a Kindle Fire HD or a Nexus 7 for free, which one would you rather own?

If you said "Nexus" or "Kindle Fire", you're probably in a very, very small minority. ZDNet is an enclave of geekiness. If I asked the same question at the New York Times or on our more mainstream reporting outlet, CBS News, I think we all know what the real answer by the majority of responders would be.

This is not about company image or prestige or it being a popularity contest, or about some pointless, news whoring, artificially created battle between "Fandroids" and "iSheep".

The bottom line is that the value of Apple's app and content ecosystem is superior to that of its competitors selling less expensive or even comparably-priced devices with their own ecosystems.

Google, in partnership with Samsung is rumored to be rolling out a direct competitor to the iPad 4 next week. With a supposedly even more retinized retina display with superior pixel density.

Do you really think they'll sell as many Nexus 10's on an order of magnitude anywhere close to what Apple is expected to do with their own device? Assuming it costs the same or slightly less than the iPad 4?

Of course not. I expect even Amazon to sell more Kindle Fire HDs than all Nexus tablets combined over the next calendar year.

Why? Ecosystem, baby.

No matter how much hardware you stuff into a device at less cost than your competitor, if your ecosystem is inferior, and your apps just aren't as good, then it doesnt matter what you put in that pile of silicon, plastic and metal.

As a device manufacturer, the ecosystem that you are capable of offering to your customers is worth more than all of your component integration, period. 

However, it just so happens that Apple's component integration is also better than the Nexus 7. Don't believe me? I own a Nexus 7 and I've been travelling with it as my only tablet device since the device was released.

I also own an iPad 3 and an iPhone. The only reason why I own a Nexus 7 is that I like to travel with at least one current generation iOS and Android device at any time, because I actually write about this stuff.

But as a consumer? If I had to choose between the Nexus 7 and and iPad mini, I'd much rather have an iPad mini. And I'm a real bona fide, certified geek, a Linux and open source evangelist, and a professional technologist that actually works as one for a living. I don't just play one on TV, folks.

It's true that on paper that the 8GB version of the Nexus 7 is only $199 (the 16GB version is $249, and the iPad mini starts at with 16GB at $329) and has some theoretically better components in it, such as a quad core processor, more integrated RAM, and a higher resolution display. It also has a similar resolution front-facing camera.

Have you ever actually USED most Android apps on a Nexus 7 versus an iPad 2, which shares the same SoC and screen resolution as the iPad mini? No? Well I have.

Despite the fact that the Nexus 7 has more horsepower and more memory, the iOS apps on balance are better, run faster, and are more stable.

The Skype implementation on Android is a joke, the video rendering and capture is pathetic and the audio transcode is horrendous, so if you plan to do video chats with that 720p camera, fuhgeddaboudit. And Google Video Chat on G+ is even worse.

Wanna post some pics or image stabilized video with the Nexus 7's rear camera? Oh right, it doesn't have one.

Now, Skype on an iPad 2 or iPad 3 which has an inferior front camera to the iPad mini and Nexus 7? Flawless video and audio over the same Wi-Fi connection and broadband link. And you also have the option of using Apple's own Facetime to other iOS users as well as Macs.

Don't believe me? Ask our own James Kendrick and Zack Whittaker, who I tested the software on both iOS and Android platforms with using both devices.

Facebook on iPad versus Android? No comparison. Overall quality of Twitter clients? Again, no comparison. The stability of the Netflix implementation? HBO GO? Hulu+? Avaliability of the best game titles for mobile devices? Breadth and quality of e-reader apps? iOS still wins.

Office suite compatability? Apple's iWork is way better than what Google currently offers today, and QuickOffice, while a decent product, isn't built into Android yet despite Google's recent purchase of the company.

And the iOS implementation of QuickOffice Pro HD is better than Android's, just in case you are wondering.

As a business tool, iOS outclasses Android, period.

And I don't know if you've ever tried to respond to an email or key in anything on the Nexus 7's virtual keyboard versus a much smaller iOS device, like an iPhone, but my iPhone virtual keyboard accuracy blows my Nexus 7 away.

Oh, and have fun with that virtual spacebar that is positioned directly above the home button on the Nexus 7. You're gonna love that. 

So ok, the Nexus 7 has a native port of the desktop Chrome browser engine whereas iOS has a mobile version of Safari. That should be an advantage, right? Nope.

Safari on an A5 wth 512MB of RAM renders pages much faster and smoother than Chrome on the Nexus 7 with a quad-core Tegra 3 and twice the amount of memory, especially over bandwidth constrained connections, such as when using GogoInflight on an aircraft, or a miserly hotel Internet broadband connection shared with 300 other guests.

Should you really want to sync with your synced Google browser bookmarks, iOS can run a version of Chrome, albeit with a slower browser engine.

iOS has comparable GMail, Google+, Google Earth, YouTube and Google+ Local apps. As well as native email client integration with GMail as well as Exchange Activesync.

iOS also has a native Microsoft Bing! app, which is actually pretty good. And also a native Google Voice Search app which delivers similar results to the Google Now functionality in Jelly Bean.

Nexus 7 has the superior Google Maps, whereas iOS has the sucky Apple Maps or access to Google Maps via web browser. Oh my God, the world is going to end.

Great, what exactly do you plan to tether that $199 Nexus 7 to for routing and Google Maps/Navigation data with that nifty integrated GPS, being that it only has a Wi-Fi connection? You'll need to pre-cache the geolocation data before you go anywhere. 

At least with the iPad mini, you have the option of buying a 3G/LTE version. And you have your choice of excellent 3rd-party navigation apps for iOS, such as Waze, GPX and Navigon if you really hate the Apple Maps.

Presumably, we'll see a 3G/LTE Nexus 7 shortly, but guess what? The iPad mini has a bigger battery and a longer battery life. To make the LTE Nexus 7 have the same 7 or so hours of battery life, they're going to have to put in a bigger battery and make it heavier.

The bottom line is this: If you want a Nexus 7, then buy it for what you plan to use it for and make sure the apps you intend to run on it meet your needs. Don't buy it because it is cheaper.

Is the iPad mini overpriced, or does it deliver value by the virtue of its ecosystem and superior applications? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: iPad, Android, Apple, Google

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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