iPad mini is more than just the sum of its hardware

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.

TOPICS: iPad, Android, Apple, Google


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


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience 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.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


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  • What I love the most about the iPad Mini

    Is that how all those apple-freaks who have been ranting about the regular resolution displays being an incredible suffering for both the eyes and souls for the last half year, now suddenly start to declare the opposite, that the res doesnt really matter that much.
    • Resolution, luminosity and color fidelity of a display do matter.

      Those issues will likely keep owners of HiDPI or retina class machines away from purchasing the iPad Mini. (Everyone else .. well .. their eyes are not educated enough and the iPad Mini will do just fine for those individuals.)

      Personally, I like the iPad Mini form factor but I will wait until it has a faster processor and a retina (or HiDPI) screen resolution. My heavy iPad 3 will do just fine until the iPad Mini gets upgraded.
      • Fully Agree - Retina Screen and A6X for an iPad mini!

        I hope that Apple will read this and start work on refreshing the iPad mini in the near future. I would buy it for an additiona $250 more just to have something I like.
        • Myabe they will release a new iPad mini

          6 months from today just like the 3rd generation iPad.
          • iPad Mini is smaller

            So it should take half the time. I say 3 months from today.
        • $250 more? You make no sense.

          You, sir, are obviously suffering from being too long in the ARDF.
        • unfortunatelly (and I have a "now old" ipad 3)

          this new version will be available in 4 months..!!!

      • Everything else is retina but the mini

        Knowing how Apple operates, of course they put hardware in that is 2 gens old. Otherwise they wouldn't have a "little something more" for you next year. Sad part is that there will be suckers that buy this so-last-year model thinking it is cool new technology. Everything else they sell is retina, but the NEWEST piece of the ecosystem is not. Why is that my friends? Greed. And Apple is loaded with it. But (and I hate to use this line) the iSheep will flock to the iPad Mini like it was manna from up above. If sales of the Mini are off the wall, knowing darn well that it should (and will) have been a retina display, then the statement defends itself.
        • That wouldn't defend the statement

          All that you did was claim that if a product that is expected to sell well does that it's only because of "iSheep" flocking to it. You have completely overlooked the fact that maybe it will sell well because people prefer it over other options on the market even if priced higher than those options. Maybe to those customers there are other aspects that prove to be far more beneficial on the Mini than the higher res display.
        • Here's the deal...

          In 6-12 months Apple will undoubtedly upgrade the Mini to Retina and better specs. So the decision in the meantime, for me at least, is would I rather use the Mini in that time period and enjoy it, even though the screen is not as good as the Nexus 7, or would I rather switch ecosystems, and get used to different apps and Android's sad tablet/enlarged phone apps for the Nexus? I have had a full sized ipad and a note 10.1 I have currently a Nexus 7 and iPad Mini. I am deciding which is best for me. Ideally I would like the iPad Mini with a retina display. It does not exist, so I will settle for the current mini. Not because I am an iSheep, but because it fits me the best.
          Jeff Solomon
    • It's about quality

      Although I admit, Apple may be losing some of it's golden days quality, but it's still better than most.
      I never had a problem with the iPad 2 fitting enough on the screen, and this is the full resolution of the iPad 2, just shrunken with smaller pixels. People are saying the Surface RT, with similar resolution is great and supposedly the pixels don't count with Microsoft, so I'll just have to see it to judge.
      My original iPad was way better than the Xoom's display, and I have found Apple device screen quality better than any comparable android device when I did my shopping. I know things have progressed on both ends so I'll just have to see.
      • Hmm interesting

        I do agree that apple is known for their hardware quality, but I never really liked the look of the screens when compared to other devices. I know I'll get flamed and damned to hell for saying it, but I'm just not impressed. I played around with an iphone 5 the other day and for some reason the screen looks dull and not as vibrant as say, a One X or even my Gnex.
  • It's more than $329

    $40 for the adapter and/or $400 for new accessories.
    Ed Edvil
    • Tethering is dead

      It's about being wireless these days. Airplay, iCloud, wireless syncing, etc. Most practical iPad owners aren't trying to physically dock it with accessories anyways, get real.
      • No computer necessary

        My iPad went to work immediately out of the box, when I answered 1 question: what is your iTunes ID? Bingo. Apps, music, tv shows, books, movies, photos, videos, even bookmarks, mail accounts and various app preferences good to go thanks to the glory of iCloud. Nothing to figure out, easy as pie. I have no need for accessories or even for that matter a computer- iCloud seamlessly moves those concepts into the past. Non-issue.
        • And there's the problem, iTunes

          It's very limiting and annoying to have to use iTunes. It should be optional the way Google does it. On Android you can move data on and off in a number of different ways not just through the magical cloud.
          • You mean just like the iPad?

            iTunes works just fine and just like Android you have the option of using the cloud or not.
        • iCloud and iPad are already old tech.

          Well, your iPad might have replaced your laptop or workstation, but iPad is still a computer, no matter how much you say otherwise.

          I bought week ago a 7" tablet what replaced my laptop and most things in my workstation expect games and real content creation (graphics) but same time that 7" tablet went and replaced my smartphone as well.

          over 20 hours talk time, 40 day standby time or over 10 hours use. And all in nifty package.

          Yes sir/ma'm! You can keep your iPad as it is nothing more than tablet what needs you to carry a other device with you to be connected to rest of outside world. All what I need to do, was to type my account name and everything from movies, music, books, photos, bookmarks, mails, applications and their settings were synced to my device. And I have over 64GB storage in device itself and in my personal cloud (for what I pay 2 dollar a month) I have 2 terabytes without actual speed or quota limitations.

          In my device I have got 1.9 MBytes/s (no, not megabits but BYTES) download nearly full 21MBits networking and up I get over 500 Kbytes/s when I need to upload something from my camera.

          For device, I paid only 250 dollars, for my phone contract of unlimited speed and amount of data I pay 3 dollars a month, for calls I can talk 24h a day only for one dollar if wanted.

          In month, I pay about 10 dollars for everything (transferred data, personal cloud, calls, sms) but minimum of 5 dollar.

          Even this one is written with my tablet. I have word processor, spreadsheet and presentation tools for free if I would need to use them. I have lots of different pro graphic tools to help at work. And I don't need to do anything else than focus to my work when my tablet fits perfectly to my pockets or in camera bag.

          Apples iCloud is nice, but it isn't so awesome as what Unix world has offered last 10 years and especially last 5 years when cheap ARM computers has hit the markets.

          And when I come to home, I don't need to use any "iTV" box but I can stream videos or photos easily. And do that nearly for any other person home or corporation, have or not any Apple products in their use.

          What I am going to do is just have fun with environment and other people and I don't need to try to show up my devices brand like many Apple/Nokia/Microsoft fans needs to do to get somekind status feeling. Technology works when it isn't visible, you don't need to think it and you don't place it best position at your home but it is just hided and no one even sees when it works. That is the magic.
          • I tried reading your rant but was getting a headache

            Either you should blame it on English being a second language or you posted that with your magical device and it didn't correct anything.
        • Wow that cloud stuff sure is cool, huh?

          Welcome to Android 4 years ago...