Apple Announces its iPad Mini

The iPad Mini is a disappointment. It is over-priced and under-featured compared to competing 7″ tablets.

Although Apple in the past has been famous for its secrecy, it seems it felt so much pressure from competing 7″ screen sized tablets that it needed to unofficially hint about the mini iPad release months before it occurred (today) in the desperate hope of persuading people not to rush out and buy new Google Nexus 7 or Amazon Kindle Fire tablets, but rather to wait for the Apple product.

Anyone who waited for the iPad Mini rather than bought a Nexus 7 will now be sorely disappointed.

As it turned out, the only surprise with the new Apple Mini iPad was the price.  Just about every other detail had been thoroughly – and accurately – leaked in advance.

Let’s talk about the price first, then discuss what you get.

The mini iPad was needed to fill two weaknesses of the regular iPad product, and also because other companies were now starting to sell mini tablets in commercially huge quantities, making a market segment Apple could not afford to ignore any more, no matter how much it might like or dislike the overall concept of mini iPads.

The two weaknesses were convenience and price.

As for convenience, any portable device embodies unavoidable compromise, and in the case of tablet computers, while the bigger the screen it has, the better it is for the user, the downside is that until such time as we get foldable zero weight screens, the bigger the screen, the bulkier and heavier the unit necessarily becomes.  The standard sized iPad is too big to fit in a pocket; and the market has evolved to reveal an opportunity for a pocket-sized tablet.

As for price, it is interesting how concepts of value change.  When the original iPad was first released in March 2010, its lead $499 price was considered amazing value and was lower than almost all industry commentators had predicted.

But now that smaller 7″ screen sized tablets are sold for as little as $199 (off-brand and earlier generation items sell for even less) and with any type of tablet remaining a bit of a novelty rather than a must-have device for many people, $499 has increasingly seemed expensive rather than good value.  So Apple needed a lower priced product for price-sensitive shoppers.

Many commentators felt that Apple would release its iPad mini at perhaps a $249 price point, on the basis that it had some brand equity/value that could substantiate a higher than lowest price point; others suggested maybe Apple would lead with a $299 price point, albeit with a clearly superior unit compared to the $199 units out there.

We now know – the entry-level price will be $329, appreciably higher than the $199 opening price on Amazon and Google 7″ tablets.

So what do you get for the extra cost of an Apple mini iPad?  Let’s have a look and see.

The mini iPad has a slightly greater than 7″ screen – its diagonal measurement is 7.9″, and its resolution is 1024 x 768 pixels (a 162 ppi density).  This compares unfavorably with either a Nexus 7 or an Amazon Kindle Fire HD with 1200 x 800 (216 ppi) or 1280 x 800 (also 216 ppi) respectively.

So the good news – the screen is slightly bigger; but the bad news – there are fewer pixels on it than on the slightly smaller screens on the two competing devices.  In this type of trade-off, I’d definitely prefer to have the extra pixels rather than the extra screen space.  In other words, when it comes to its screen, the mini iPad is inferior to both the Google and Amazon products.  There’s no way Apple should charge a premium for its inferior screen.

Another important factor is the storage capacity of the unit.  In this case, Apple’s mini iPad starts off with 16GB of storage for $329, and offers larger 32GB or 64GB models for $429 and $529 respectively.

The Nexus 7 is available with 8GB of storage for $199 and 16GB of storage for $249.  The Kindle Fire is the value leader when it comes to storage.  It offers 16GB for $199 and 32GB for $249 – Amazon only charges an extra $50 for the extra storage, whereas Apple charges $100 for the upgrade, becoming even more price disadvantaged as it does so.

So, in terms of storage, to compare the same 16GB capacity, the Nexus is $249 (a price drop is rumored), the Kindle Fire is $199 and the iPad mini is $329.  Apple is at the far side of that value equation.

What else is there to consider?  The iPad mini is slightly lighter (at 10.9 oz, it is an ounce less than the Nexus and 3 oz less than the Kindle), similar in size and slightly thinner (by a tenth of an inch) than the other two devices – in other words, they are all very much the same in terms of physical factors.

Battery life also seems comparable, with the Amazon unit being probably the best (11 hrs) and the Nexus probably the worst (8 hrs).

In terms of processor speed, who really cares.  They are all three sufficiently fast.  In terms of cameras, again, who cares – but if this is important for you, then the iPad mini is the clear winner (but, even so, its 5 MP camera is probably inferior to whatever you have on your modern smartphone, where 8MP cameras are now common).

So, in terms of the things which really count, the iPad mini is no better than, and usually inferior to, the other two units.

What/Which Should You Buy?

If you don’t yet have a tablet, your choice is between a lower priced but smaller 7″ tablet and a more expensive (ie $500+) and larger 9.7″ sized tablet.  If you already have a tablet, you already have a feeling for the implications of screen size.

If you can justify the extra cost, we’d recommend going for a full-sized iPad.  The extra screen size makes it enormously more versatile in terms of watching video and viewing web pages, and while you lose portability, most people end up seldom taking their tablet with them everywhere they go.  It is better to have a large screen sized phone plus a full size tablet, rather than ending up with three devices – smaller phone, smaller tablet and also larger tablet too.

If you want a tablet mainly to read books, maybe to send and receive email, and as a novelty to ‘play with’ then there’s less need for a larger screen and so we’d recommend the Google Nexus 7.  Its low price point makes it the clear winner in any scenario where you don’t need the larger sized screen.

There’s not really any situation at all where we can recommend the Amazon product due to its limited functionality.  And as you may be aware, Microsoft’s Surface tablets are now slowly coming onto the market too, but we can’t recommend them in any circumstance or for any purpose whatsoever.

Your two choices almost always end up as being between the Google Nexus 7 and the full-sized Apple iPad.

Summary – the iPad Mini

The iPad Mini was a product that Steve Jobs said would never be made by Apple.  He was probably thinking of something exactly like this product when he said that.

Astonishingly, given Apple’s self-proclaimed record of innovation, the iPad Mini fails to catch up to pre-existing ‘state of the art’ as represented by the Google and Amazon 7″ tablets, let alone being better (which it isn’t).  It is also regrettably and significantly more expensive than either of the two better units.  The iPad Mini wins neither the feature race nor the price race, and as such, it thoroughly loses in all respects.

Do not buy the iPad Mini.  Buy a full size iPad if you can justify its cost and don’t mind the loss of convenience and portability, or buy a Google Nexus 7 if small size and portability are most important to you.  Also buy the Nexus 7 if you want to spend the least amount possible and seek the best value.

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