It seems inevitable that Apple will announce a smaller iPad next month. From leaked photos, parts and careful math the product will sit between the full sized iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch. The consumer demand for such a product has been established by Samsung, Amazon and Google producing the only glimmer of hope Android can someday take on the market dominating iPad. So it just makes sense that Apple would produce a similar product.
The only problem with this line of reasoning is Apple could care less about consumer demand. They do what they do and then convince us to buy the result. The current iPad is a tremendous success at it’s $400-500 entry price points. The current size of the device is perfect for what it does, the only area for improvement is in weight which will likely be solved in the next refresh. And finally, Apple just doesn’t expand their lines with the same thing in smaller sizes. At least in mobile devices (just look at the iPod lineup for an example). So for these and developer fragmentation in apps I have long contended Apple would never do “a 7 inch iPad.”
If all the speculation is correct, the size of the iPad mini (or Air) will be closer to 8 inches so my previous statements will be technically correct. But what really bothers me is the sameness to the current iPad; there just has to be something magical about doing the smaller version aside from a lower price point. This got me thinking about the next big thing in computer user interface; what comes after the mouse. And I think the new, smaller iPad could be part of that future.
Since Apple introduced multi-touch gestures in Mac OS X and the magic trackpad most of us have at least become aware of where computing is headed. But the gestures just are the tip of the iceberg that will start to come to light when the iPad mini is released.
Imagine using the tablet as your main pointing device replacing your mouse. Each application could have their own palettes and special controls on the iPad screen as well as accept your touch input for pointing and manipulating data. Games would be another interesting application what could span the desktop and Apple TV. This mouse app could be run on a full sized iPad, of course, but I think being in the middle of the too small iPhone and the too large iPad is the perfect spot. And the entry price of $299 would not put it out of reach for most consumers. So I think the iPad mini will also double as your mouse for your laptop or desktop. We’ll see what they have for us in October.
Until Android or Windows tablets match the range and quality of iPad’s app ecosystem they will continue to be a very small niche. Right now I don’t think this is possible unless Apple stumbles for a year or two.
Apple did something interesting today with the announcement of their new iPad that shows they have no problems cannibalizing their own laptop business. Instead of taking on lower priced tablets, as I speculated last week, Apple ended up making the iPad even more of a productivity device. Outside of a significant increase in screen resolution and optional LTE mobile networking the new iPad is very similar specced to last year’s iPad 2. But that increase in screen resolution gives a much larger canvas for developers to use to make apps to get things done while on the road. Apple’s iLife and iWork apps show the way here but I think there will be a renaissance in iPad productivity apps this year.
My daily driver for the past 4 years has been a 15 inch MacBook Pro. Almost all the time it is connected to a large monitor, keyboard and mouse. I’ve been waiting for a 15 inch MacBook Air to replace it but might just end up buying a Mac mini and the new iPad for less money. On the rare occurrence I need a desktop app while traveling I can always VNC into my office desktop or use something like OnLive. But when I travel 90% of what I do is email and web browsing, tasks that the iPad excels at already. So I’m thinking my 2008 MacBook Pro might be the last laptop I ever buy. And I’m OK with that.
It also doesn’t look like Apple has any plans to take on $200 Android tablets. But they are certainly taking aim at $600 Windows laptops.
I have long espoused that there is no tablet market, just an iPad market. But with the introduction of the Kindle Fire and to a lesser degree Nook Tablet there is a competitive threat to be dealt with. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble were smart to not take on Apple straight up as Samsung and others have done, and failed, with Android tablets. No, they developed highly customized user experiences centered around reading and content consumption and carved out a foot hold with price. And like what Android did with smartphones over time, you can extrapolate the same course might be taken in the tablet space with incremental improvements and “good enough” solutions at prices half or less Apple charges for the iPad.
So it will be interesting to see what Apple does next week when they announce the iPad 3. Rumor has it they will keep the iPad 2 on the market as an entry level device and might even field an 8 GB model. That would be most interesting but to fully disrupt the nascent tablet market they would have to hit the $299 price point. Since refurb original iPads sell for that today it would be conceivable that the 8 GB iPad 2 could retail as low as $299. If that’s the case, game over even for the Kindle Fire.
There is also a ridiculous rumor Apple will announce a 7.85 inch iPad before the holiday season at $199 to compete head to head with the Kindle Fire. This is just not how Apple rolls, especially since they are sure to introduce a new resolution for developers to deal with, so I still think it is more likely to see a 4 inch iPod Touch at the end of the year based upon the iPhone 5. This would retail in the $199 price point but would not run iPad apps. I think Apple could command at least $100 over competitors especially if they are delivering a larger and more capable device.
We’ll see what happens next week but this will fully play out over the next 6 months.