Three things Apple needs to get right with the iPad mini

Three things Apple needs to get right with the iPad mini

Summary: While pundits confidently predict that the iPad mini will land - possibly as early as this month in order to be ready for the holiday season - Apple needs to get several things right if this new class of device is to mimic the success of its big brother.

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TOPICS: iPad, Apple, Hardware, iOS, Tablets
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Mass production of Apple's fabled iPad mini has allegedly begun, and while there hasn't been a single official word uttered about this by anyone at Cupertino, this hasn't stopped the endless speculation. Well, time for some more speculation and prognosticating.

Here are three things Apple will need to get right if this new class of device is to succeed.

Price

Price is going to be critical, and Apple hasn't left much room for any iPad mini it its lineup. It has to fit into a catalog that consists of the iPad 3 that starts at $499, the iPad 2 that retails for $399, and the iPod touch -- Apple's iPhone without the phone -- that also starts at $299.

Apple's decision to price the iPod touch starting at $299 doesn't leave much room for the iPad mini. Would the market support a price of $350 when a full-sized iPad 2 costs $399, and the latest model only another $100? Since Apple firmly believes that its loyal customers will pay $40 for a cable or $9 for a wrist strap, then maybe people will, without question, pay whatever it says on the price tag for an iPad mini.

But still, if the best Apple can offer the iPod touch -- with its 4-inch screen, 5-megapixel camera, and 32GB of storage -- is $299, then it's hard to see the iPad mini, with its 7.x-inch screen (where the x is an unknown), coming in cheaper.

Differentiation

I firmly believe that if the iPad mini is to be a success -- assuming that we ever see such a device -- then there has to be more to it than being just a smaller iPad. If the difference is no more than having to choose between an iPad with a 9.7-inch screen, and one with a 7.x-inch screen, then I can see price being the deciding factor.

To many people, the choice of a tablet with a screen "about 9 inches across" and another with a screen "about 7 inches across" is going to come down to price. This is because those two inches don't seem important. I know that Apple sell MacBook Pro and MacBook Air systems in 2-inch increments, but differentiation in CPUs, RAM, GPUs, and storage mean it's not a straight decision between one screen size and another.

The iPad mini needs to be more than just a mini iPad.

User interface

While it seems that even former Apple CEO Steve Jobs was "receptive" to the idea of a 7-inch iPad, it's going to take effort to get the user interface right. What works on the iPhone with its 4-inch screen, or the iPad with the 9.7-inch screen, won't necessarily work for a device with a 7.x-inch screen.

Back in December of 2011, a Nielsen Normal Group report claimed that Amazon's Kindle Fire Android tablet "offers a disappointingly poor user experience". The problem came down to the screen, and how it awkwardly fell into the gap between a smartphone and a tablet.

The Nielsen Normal Group's conclusions were harsh:

For 7-inch tablets to succeed, service and content providers must design specifically for these devices. Repurposed designs from print, mobile phones, 10-inch tablets, or desktop PCs will fail, because they offer a terrible user experience. A 7-inch tablet is a sufficiently different form factor that it must be treated as a new platform. Furthermore, these mid-sized tablets are so weak that suboptimal designs — that is, repurposed content — won't work. Optimize for 7-inch or die.

Because the iPad currently commands 70 percent of the tablet market, we've not seen a lot of content optimized for 7-inch tablets.

The bottom line

When Apple unveiled the iPad two and a half years ago, it was a very different world. Tablets weren't new, but the idea that a tablet could go mainstream was. Microsoft had tried, and failed monumentally, for over a decade, and tablets seemed destined to be niche products.

Apple changed this.

Now the market is different. Apple may have grabbed 70 percent of the market, but it's now a busy and contently evolving market. Players like Google and Amazon have marked their territory, while Microsoft is hoping that there's room for Windows 8-powered slates.

There's no doubt that Apple has the Midas touch, and anyone who bets against the Cupertino juggernaut is a foolish person, but the iPad mini could be under greater and more immediate pressure than the iPad was when it was born.

Image source: Nickolay Lamm/InventHelp.

Topics: iPad, Apple, Hardware, iOS, Tablets

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58 comments
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  • Well you made a very good point(s)

    I will not be interested in iPad Mini if it doesn't come with retina display like some tech media is saying. I already have iPad 2 at home with that resolution. and like you said just if I could spend another $100, I would go with new iPad (Microcenter is selling them for $459 - 16GB, not $499).
    Ram U
    • I could see two models...

      Like the Fire/Fire HD idea.

      A 249-300 USD A4 unit with 8 GB Flash and 1024x768 screen.

      A 300-349 USD A6 or die shrunk A5 unit starting at 16GB and retina screen.

      Standard WiFi and cellular options.
      Bruizer
    • Apple is famous for price reductions when releasing new products.

      I would think the iPad mini would be priced at US $299 and the iTouch priced at $250. The iTouch will eventually be phased out leaving only the mini, iPhone, iPad.
      NOmoreMicrosoftATall
      • Why would their best selling iPod be phased out?

        I just don't see Apple doing anything that foolish as phasing out (killing) their iPod user base. There's still a large market out their that needs a pocketable mobile device such as the iPod Touch for music and entertainment, apps, games. And that's not tied to some carrier. Over 50 million iPod Touch users out there.
        dave95.
        • In the past,

          Apple would update OS X and freely leave users in the dust

          Remember when Rosetta was yanked? and an app developer is under no obligation to kow-tow every time Apple does something. I'm amazed (and grateful) companies still support the Mac, noting Windows' dominance...
          HypnoToad72
      • If they release iPod Touch with 5" display

        I would buy that device in heartbeat. Probably they would release their next iPod Touch with 5" size in future, but I don't think they would yank the iPod Touch totally. But who knows all the big companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft are famous for dropping stuff. Of course Google is #1 in that department.
        Ram U
    • iPad mini will not have Retina dispay, most probably

      Apple only does "times 2" resolution changes, and while 2048x1536 screen of 7.85" diagonal is technically possible to produce -- and it is, in fact, easier to do than 9.7" screen with the same resolution (this might seem to be counterintuitive, but it is so) -- price point of such device would be too high for such product.

      Also, Apple's new A6 SoC has twice narrower memory bus than A5X, used in the 9.7" iPad 3. Since Apple will most probably use the same chip for iPad mini, this means this device will have only 1024x768 resolution -- maybe until next year, when iPad mini will be updated to Retina.

      Apple certainly readies wide memory bus A6X SoC for March release of iPad 4, but the point is that they will hardly put it in iPad mini -- they only just introduced A6 SoC, they do not go that fast usually.

      Overall, besides screen manufacturing point, there is price issue and SoC issues that hint that iPad mini will only use 1024x768 resolution.
      DDERSSS
      • Well I agree with your A6X for iPad 4 and iPad 2 Mini

        but wouldn't that become having to support many resolutions for the same device. Also I wish they should release this in 5 to 6" form factor instead of 7.x". That would allow me to carry in my pocket and never look at Samsung Galaxy Note.
        Ram U
  • Price is critical, but it really just needs to be an IPad

    What Apple has that the others don't with the IPad Mini is all the stuff that works with the IPad.

    Hardware isn't everything and the completely mature and successful OS and huge quantity of Apps and actually useful capabilities of the IPad count for a lot.

    The Nook, Nexus and Fire are simply entertainment and information access devices, the IPad is a useful tool even for "content creation" and people know it.

    I tend to think that Apple can't charge over $300.00 without seriously abandoning the 7" market, but my guess is even at $300.00 Apple would make a very serious entry into it.

    At $250.00 they would take it over.
    Gary McCray
    • Not really

      I think it actually needs to be different from the IPad.
      The IPad does not offer you anything more than what you can do with your smartphone (iPhone or Samsung's devices), and is very poor if compared with any laptop.

      The same can be said for any tablet, I give you that. At least I can see the point of the next Microsoft's Surface, but an IPad really does not offer much.
      Shistram
      • I agree with you Shistram

        I just don't feel like the iPad offers anything particularly special. And to add to Gary's comment, this will probably sell just because it is Apple. Many people buy products just for the brand name, like designer jeans and such.
        SteveWojo
        • seems you're another one of the many clueless MS fanboys,

          rlittle soldiers egurgitating the same tired, old song: we buy Apple products because we are sheep, iDiots, cult, morons, stupid, etc, etc.

          But I have news for you, buddy: we buy Apple gear because we are wealthier and can afford it; and we are wealthier because we work better, and because we work better we make more money and our time is more valuable.
          theo_durcan
          • At no point in his comment did I read

            Sheep, Idiot, Cult, Morons, Stupid or even etc. etc... And for someone who is "wealthier because you work better" to make up a word like egurgitating is kind of amusing.

            There are reasons why brand names are so important across any range of products. I could list hundreds of brands over the last few decades that often sold for hugely inflated prices simply because of the name. Can you honestly tell me an Ed Hardy t-shirt was worth $200 due to manufacturing and design costs? Can you explain to me why a broke college student would insist on buying an Apple over a much cheaper Windows laptop, when she still has to run Windows for Visual Studio on said laptop, if it's for no other reason than brand?

            You're pretty clueless if you honestly believe that brand doesn't play a factor in what a company charges for their product. And that's true of every major "luxury" brand. Perception is everything. Does Apple make a good product? Sure they do. But I know people who moved from an iPhone 4S to an iPhone 5. I've seen and used both, it certainly wasn't worth the price of an off contract, full price upgrade to get an extra inch. But have fun trying to convince yourself people didn't do that because it said Apple on it.
            LiquidLearner
          • Agreed

            I'll add that the comment about wealth is silly. Apple does not have a monopoly on expensive products. As far as smarphones go, Samsung and LG have top class products. Tablets ? Sony and Samsung. Computers ? Asus, Dell, Acer, you name it.

            Apple forces you to get an Apple ecosystem at home. If one wants to argue it's by choice because one has wealth, one must be pretty ignorant of Apple's competitors.
            Shistram
          • What an arrogant and clueless statement!

            I am really sorry, you have no clue and totally blind sided.
            >>But I have news for you, buddy: we buy Apple gear because we are wealthier and can afford it; and we are wealthier because we work better, and because we work better we make more money and our time is more valuable.

            If you see in the real world most of the iPhone buyers are not so rich or no so making top $ personal. If only wealthy persons buy iPhone or another Apple product, Apple wouldn't be a close to trillion $ company.
            Ram U
      • You have never touched an iPad have you?

        That comment made no sense at all.
        Bruizer
        • Why not?

          After all, we were told the iPad wasn't a giant iPod touch and then Apple releases a prototype that says iPod on the back!

          The iPhone does pretty much the same things the iPad can do and I have owned an iPhone and currently own a 3rd gen iPad.
          slickjim
          • I use my iPad for substantially different tasks than my phone.

            Each device is hired to different tasks and many of the apps I use on the iPad are not even available on the iPhone.

            So you own a new iPad but do you ever use it?
            Bruizer
          • If my phone can't do it, I turn to my laptop

            I have an iPad a two samsung tablets at home (one was a gift). I'm not ashamed to say that I do not use them. I try for a week, and let them go. They do not fill any void. If I want to set up an appointment or meet up with friends or take notes, I use my S3.
            And when I want to browse or code or play games (real PC games) I use my laptop.

            When my smartphone can't do something, my first move is to go to my laptop.
            Sorry but "Apps" are just too light in content to actually provides services my computer can't.
            Shistram
          • Use the desktop/laptop only for programming.

            There are many things the phone just bites at that the tablet excels. Not only that, it is many times more mobile than the laptop. The mobility is a huge win for the tablet and the power of the apps surprise me daily.
            Bruizer