Why would Apple release a tablet device sporting a screen of around 7 inches and coming at a price that’s significantly lower than the $499 entry price for a new full-sized iPad? Who would buy, it, and what would they use it for?
These questions (slightly pre-mature, admittedly, as we still don’t know that much about the machine) began as an informal poll in Fast Company‘s digital office asking: “Would you buy an iPad mini?”
Of the eight responses, two people said yes, definitely; three replied absolutely not; and three others said: yes, eventually. That’s not a resounding thumbs-up, but it’s a sign, however small, that Apple could sell truckloads of iPad minis–even if they don’t match the popular appeal of the record-breaking iPhone 5.
A quick round of questions on Twitter turned up both positive and negative responses–roughly mirroring our office’s answers in proportion.
The reasons for each of the answers are interesting–let’s dig in:
One respondee noted that he uses his existing iPad as an e-reader, and he loves its proportions so he sees “no point in the Mini.” Others noted that with iPhones, laptops, and perhaps an iPad already, there’s no point in getting a mini because all their mobile computing needs are covered.
A detractor mentioned the old saw about Apple’s closed ecosystem, noting that you could choose a Nexus 7 and “build stuff” or go for an iPad mini and “consume in a very nice golden prison.” Another claimed they’d never buy iAnything.
One respondee said a plain no, arguing that they were going to buy an Asus tablet because it has the computing power and a USB slot they needed. Others already had bought a Nexus 7 or other small tablet. One argued he’d never thought “I wish my iPad was smaller.”
Several opinions pointed out that before the iPad we didn’t know we needed tablets, and indeed the very notion of a “big iPhone” was laughed at widely. Then tens of millions of them sold. So we can infer that a big market and a suite of use-cases will quickly grow up for the iPad mini–after all, Amazon’s 7-inch Fire has caused a bit of popular fuss in the U.S. and Google’s Nexus 7 seems to be doing okay.
One respondee noted they didn’t own an iPad yet, but if a budget-friendly iPad mini showed up they’d buy it. Others suggested that a low price would definitely be attractive, especially since the benefits are that it’s similar to a Kindle Fire or Nook but with more features and “all the plusses of Apple products.” $300 or below was a figure people seemed comfortable with.
Some commenters noted that a cheaper iPad mini would probably be snapped up by schools keen to buy tablets and leverage Apple’s App Store for teaching resources, but which operate on limited budgets. Smaller fingers would fit better with a smaller screen too. Personally, my kids have already extracted much educational worth out of their first-gen iPad and a new iPad mini would appeal if it were cheapish–it’d also be less likely to break if dropped.
Some pro-mini respondees said the discrete portability of an iPad mini was a big draw. But anti-mini responses thought that the iPhone or iPod touch was effectively an iPad mini, and the smaller-than-iPad screen real-estate would limit its usefulness–particularly for business apps, reading newspapers or demonstrating things to clients. One comment pointed out that while the iPad mini may be smaller than an iPad proper it’s still too big to fit in a pocket, which is an issue for people who don’t carry purses or bags.
The conclusion is complex, but likely positive for Apple. Many people, it seems, are attracted by the idea of a smaller iPad, at the right price. It’s also unlikely to seriously cannibalize existing Apple sales: People who already own an iPad may see little need for a mini, unless they’re upgrading from an original iPad and are seeking much more power from the new device, while people who need or prefer larger screen real estate will simply choose a full-size iPad. The iPad mini detractors are the same sort of people who wouldn’t buy a big iPad in any case, perhaps because they’re anti-Apple, they already own enough devices to meet their needs, or they simply prefer the pocketability of an iPhone.
Apple appears to already knows this. You could argue that it’s subtly promoted the appeal of a larger screen on a device in its recent new hardware releases including a new iPod Nano with a bigger screen, better for viewing video and that taller screen on the new iPhone 5 and new iPod touch. So you know what’s bigger than these devices? An iPad Mini! And sure–the mini is no 9.7-inch monster iPad, but it’s almost as powerful and it’s much cheaper and more portable still (you can imagine the PR pitch now). Rumors are that Apple’s even side-stepping the existing 7-inch tablet market, populated with Fires and Nexuses and a slew of unbranded Android tablets, and will marry iPad 2-inspired guts (for cheapness) with a 7.85-inch screen. How about that for a subtle play?
We also know that 7.85 inches is not far off a paperback book size, and that Apple’s made a big play into next-gen digital books and, specifically, e-textbooks for students. A $300-ish iPad mini with a hefty educational discount would likely sell by the millions into schools all around the world.
In terms of price, Apple’s had years to tinker with the technical specs, and sizes of its iPods and, more specifically, to adjust their prices, adding to the range at the top and bottom end to appeal to new markets. Thus an iPad mini would fit perfectly into its product line up, pitched at a different market with a different spending power. It’s almost inevitable given Apple’s own precedents.
So we can guess from our (non-scientific) poll that the potential iPad mini buyer is likely a parent of young kids. They’re certainly budget-conscious but also tempted by the siren call of mobile computing combined with the portability of a tiny iPad. On the whole mini buyers won’t be professional be-suited types, unless these folk are such heavy commuters that the smaller size appeals to them … or they’re a teacher. And interestingly enough for Apple and its bottom line, mini buyers are not necessarily current iDevice owners.
Considering the widespread awareness of the idea of the iPad mini, resulting in so many responses from the public for this piece, Apple probably wouldn’t even have to spend much on iPad minimarketing.
[Image: Flickr user Ken Fager]