Mac Musings

iPad mini: Apple's 80% Solution

Dan Knight - 2012.08.28 - Tip Jar

It's pretty much a given that we're going to see a smaller, less expensive "iPad mini" within the next two months - and I have to say that I'm sick and tired of so many people calling it a 7" tablet.

The original iPad, iPad 2, and New iPad all have a 9.7" display, and almost everyone calls it a 10" tablet when they round off to whole numbers, not a 9" tablet. Reduce this to 80% of its size and you have the iPad mini.Yet the rumored 7.85" iPad mini is consistently called a 7" model - even though 7.85" is a lot closer to 8" than 9.7" is to 10".

I think it's a disingenuous ploy to have us compare the iPad mini with 7" Android tablets, and to maybe in the back of our minds remind us that Steve Jobs said 7" tablets are too small. And Steve Jobs should know. You can be sure that Apple looked at a lot of different sizes before settling on the 9.7" screen in the full-sized iPad.

Rumor has it the iPad mini will have all the same specs as the iPad 2, except for those regarding size and weight. Same 1024 x 768 screen resolution. Same dual-core 1 GHz A5 processor. But at a rumored $299 price, it could spell the end for the entry-level iPad 2 - if not immediately, then whenever the next revision of the Retina iPad is introduced.

Apple is going to market the iPad mini as an 8" tablet, and they're going to do comparisons to the Google Nexus 7 and other 7" Android tablets, showing how smoothly iOS works on a 7.85" 1024 x 768 display compared to the widescreen 1280 x 800 216 ppi Nexus screen, the 1024 x 600 169 ppi screen of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7, and the same size and resolution screen on the Kindle Fire.

I don't care how nice Android is or how wonderful open source is, because people want to buy a known experience, and more tablet buyers have been using iPhones than any other brand of smartphone. It's not how many apps are available or Apple's "walled garden". It's familiarity. And Apple wins there hands down.

Sure, a lot of people are using Android smartphones, but there are so many different versions of Android available and so many different hardware platforms that the same apps might not even work on an Android phone and an Android tablet. That's the crazy world of Android.

With Apple, it's simple. It just works. Virtually any iPad app will run on any iPad, although some might use hardware not in the original iPad or iPad 2. Ditto for iPhone apps. And a lot of times the same app is available for both iPhone and iPad - sometimes integrated into a single version of the app, sometimes as dedicated versions for each hardware platform.

The iPad mini is going to provide the full iPad experience at the lowest price ever - but at 80% of the size of the iPad we're familiar with. And that's going to help it take off in new markets, displacing some ebook readers, taking a spot in classrooms, and going places where the 10" iPad is just too bulky.

Others have already predicted that it will decimate the Android tablet market, but that's only partially true. There will still be a solid market for cheap, low-end Android tablets. You know, like the 7" Polaroid Internet Tablet that Kohl's recently had on sale for $99 (or $119 or $139, but rarely its $179 list price) less whatever current Kohl's discount coupon you happen to have. It's not a terrible tablet for the money - only a single core 1 GHz ARM CPU, 800 x 480 low res display, almost current Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and Micro SD card slots, but no G3 wireless. (It's $109.99 plus shipping at Amazon.com, but if you play your sale prices and coupons right, you can beat that at Kohl's. Or if you want really small, there's a 4.3" 600 MHz Polaroid tablet with Android 2.2 for just $60 at Amazon.com.)

Who knows what kind of deals we'll see with back to school sales and then Black Friday, but I think the sub-$150 Android market isn't really going to feel much impact from the iPad mini. $199 tablets, on the other hand, are going to have a hard go of things unless they can provide something Apple doesn't, such as a quad-core CPU.

I really can't get excited about the big iPad, but the iPad mini could entice me. And maybe after that, Apple will launch something in the 6" range to replace all those GPS devices that need constant updating to keep your maps current - often at a premium price from the GPS maker.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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