Applesauce: All Things Apple – October 21, 2012
Let’s take a minute to reflect, shall we? After all, this could very well be the very last week in which we will speak about the iPad Mini as if it’s this far-away device, full of question marks, what ifs and speculative specifications. The iPad Mini rumor mil has been spinning for quite a long time. People have been “expecting” Apple to release this thing nearly as long as the iPad has been a real device, and possibly even longer, depending on how you want to define all those references to tablets and e-magazines in the 80s. After years and years of guessing and positing, Apple looks primed and ready to release this new iPad Mini into a waiting world, as many with anywhere from $200 to $400 burning a hole in their wallets and purses anxiously wait. But what the hell will this iPad Mini thing be? As I sat to write down my thoughts about what Apple could announce on Tuesday, I ran into multiple walls, multiple times. Yes, ’tis a dangerous game to attempt to guess what Apple could do. For every thing different they do, they also stick to tradition. They are a company who enjoys unveiling things, seeing members of the press whisper the word “wow…,” all while trying their best to remain unbiased. They do things differently not only to spite the rest of the corporate world, (I’m convinced there’s a bit of this in them, though) but because the different things just make sense. Apple doesn’t always explain why this new way makes sense, they just keep trucking and let the rest of the world figure them out as they pass by. It’s ballsy, it’s daring, and so far, it’s worked out really well for them. Which is why I have no idea what they plan to do. I’m a simple writer, a fan like you who simply enjoys the products and enjoys writing about the company and the culture. I’ve no sources and as such cannot speak with any authority. I’m stuck on if Apple will choose simplicity or surprise, not to mention several of the other unknowns tucked away in this possibly real 7.85-inch screen. At its simplest, the iPad Mini could be just that; A smaller iPad. Still powerful but with more of an eye towards consumption and productivity than creation. This smaller iPad could be easier to carry around in bags and purses, could be easier to throw to the kids in the backseat and easier to read at night. An iPad Mini could end up being the thing many reach for where they normally would have gone for the iPad. For instance, I normally go to the iPad whenever I want to look up something on Amazon or elsewhere on the Internet quickly, but don’t want to crack open my MacBook Pro and want a bigger screen than the iPhone 5. It’s a decidedly first world problem.
With an iPad Mini thrown in the mix, there’s a new decision to make. Would a simple and quick search warrant an almost 8-inch screen? Would reading be that much more enjoyable on this display? Furthermore, would this be an iPad replacement or an iPad companion? There are crazy people out in the world (present) who would buy both, if for no other reason than to simply have BOTH. But for the normal, sane person who has set aside a budget for a personal gift to themselves this holiday season, will they find themselves opting for the smaller version, skipping out on a few features and pocketing a few hundred bucks, or will they stick to the game plan and buy the Original, the Classic, the Big Boy? Would size alone be enough to sway a person into going smaller, or is there something else, something yet unknown which will make this not only a better choice, but better suited for a particular task? If Apple is thinking different(ly) and decides to surprise us all, this iPad Mini thing could be almost anything. As nothing more than a simple, smaller iPad, this thing is likely relegated to cheaper components, meaning no Retina, no LTE and maybe even an old, A5 chip.
An aside: The rumors hold that Apple will also announce a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro at this event as well. Makes sense, as an iPad Mini event has just enough room there to announce a smaller version of an existing product. However, it could be very awkward for Apple to shower praises upon the Retina display in the MacBook Pro only to unveil a 7.85-inch iPad with a 3GS screen moments later. In my opinion, this will be a Retina announcement or nothing. No Retina on the iPad Mini, the 13-inch MBP won’t get time on the stage. Sure, they may show up quietly in the store next to the rumored Mac Minis and iMacs, but the main event can’t be out-shined by the headliner. I digress…
As a smaller iPad, the iPad Mini is locked in a box, so to speak. However, as an e-reader, for example, the iPad Mini becomes what many have been clamoring for for at least 2 years: A new thing from Apple. As an e-reader, the iPad Mini becomes an education tool, something that will not only allow for easier textbook distribution, but nearly guarantees it will sell in the 10s of millions in the first year, especially if schools are given similar special pricing they’re given with the current iPad. An iPad Mini as e-reader means that Apple could exchange the 3G and 4G LTE radios for a better screen and an even better battery, all without breaking the bank. An iPad Mini as e-reader could also pair well with a new iBooks announcement. Apple’s publishing tool, iBooks Author, was released earlier this year at a special education and publishing focused event. With this tool, creating an iBook is as easy as putting together a Keynote presentation. Apple could have been working the channels since this announcement, getting book publishers to get textbooks ready for this sort of announcement. They announced partnerships with several textbook publishers, including Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill and Pearson during their January announcement of iBooks 2 and the iBooks Author application. They could be ready to move yet another piece across the board, not focused on washing out the competition from Amazon and Google, but wrapping up a relatively untapped piece of the market and getting in there for good. Perhaps they’re betting big on the iPad to continue winning in the “traditional” tablet market space and sending out it’s tinier sibling to capture and take over a new market? A education-themed iPad Mini (or iPad Mini as e-reader) could capture another part of the same market, just as the iPod Nano and Shuffle did years earlier. The iPod Nano is a wonderful, smaller player which could easily please a large percentage of the population. However, this device is specially tailored for one main audience: Athletes and exercise buffs. An iPad Mini as e-reader could work in the same way, especially if it’s given better specs than many predict. It could absolute thrive in the education and publishing market (magazines, newspapers, etc) and still do well as a general, smaller tablet. About those specs: I don’t see Apple too worried about customers deciding between an iPod Touch and an iPad Mini. Customers will likely be deciding between an iPod Touch and an iPhone 4 or 4S or an iPad Mini and a proper iPad.
(That’s what I’ll be calling it…the proper iPad)
That said, the new iPod Touch is a fine device, and very well-equipped. While an iPod Touch doesn’t serve the same purpose as an iPad Mini might, it’s worth mentioning that the iPod Touch acts as a decent point-and-shoot camera, gaming device and web browser. It seems to me that many are expecting an iPad Mini which is closer to a shrunken iPad 2, which will almost certainly come in at that envied $199 price point, but it will also enter the Apple family at the back of the pack, something Apple is not accustomed to doing.
The loved and loathed Gruber put together some more thoughts on what he thinks Apple could release on Tuesday, sticking to his predictions of a lesser screen and a different name. While I may not agree with every point he makes in his “Thoughts on the Display, Price and Name of Impending Smaller iPad,” I’m also smart enough to know there’s a much greater chance that his predictions are so much more correct and better-founded than mine. He also seems to think the new iPad, whatever it will be called, will be more like an iPad Smaller, a simple choice by Apple as opposed to the surprising choice.
Gruber starts by making a good point: No iOS device has ever debuted with a Retina screen, only getting this special treatment a few versions down the road. Additionally, Gruber argues that adding the Retina Display could make the device thicker and come at the expense of some tradeoffs Apple isn’t yet willing to make, specifically the thinness and weight of the thing. I have to think, however, that Apple isn’t willing to debut another product without a Retina screen. Yes, every iOS product has debuted without Retina, but only because Retina had yet to be introduced when every iOS product was introduced. It wasn’t available until the iPhone 4 which released in June 2010, a few months after Steve Jobs unveiled the very first iPad. Apple doesn’t often make decisions based on how customers will react, but they certainly like surprising their customers. And about the thickness…If Apple can get the latest iPod Touch as thin as they did by using the new, in-cell technology, I imagine they could easily do the same thing with a Wi-Fi only iPad.
The current Retina screen iPad comes in at .37 inches thin. The iPhone 5 is a slim .30 inches, while the new iPod Touch is a crazy thin .24 inches. Each of these devices have a Retina display, each with different internal components. The new iPad gets most of its bulk from the battery, of course. Yet, since this tablet debuted, Apple has been able to create newer, thinner batteries for both the Retina MacBook Pro and the iPhone 5. They’ve also figured out how to make the screen thinner and have begun using that Lightning port. Suffice to say, it’s very likely Apple could make a Retina’d iPad Mini somewhere between the iPhone’s .30 inches and the iPod Touch’s .24 inches. Then again, Gruber likely knows exactly what he’s talking about, so it will be interesting to see if they do release a new device with a subpar screen and what reason they give for cheating their new product on their best technology.
But therein lies the rub.
The thinness, the specs and the price all need to strike the right balance. Apple can certainly make a device which is as speedy as the iPhone 5 and thinner than the current iPad. But at what cost? At the risk of repeating myself, I think Apple will be able to release something with a slightly higher price point, skimping slightly on the chip and 4G LTE. It would be interesting to see if the new A5 found in the revamped iPad 2s could power an almost 8-inch Retina screen without lagging. An A5X (as in the new iPads) wouldn’t be a disappointment either. Finally, Gruber is sticking to his prediction that Apple will choose the “Air” moniker over “Mini,” an interesting claim and one that I would honestly be very excited to see. iPad Mini seems like the simple choice for Apple, the common sense approach to this new product. It implies that it’s an iPad, only smaller, and if this is what Apple ends up releasing, than the name certainly fits. Should this be the case, it will be incredibly easy to explain to customers this holiday season what this new device is and what it does. An iPad Air, on the other hand, could make it sound like a new thing as it calls back to the MacBook line, suggesting that this new device isn’t small, so much as it is light, an important distinction. It might not be small in what it does, but it will be light and lean heavily on iCloud, making it a post-PC and nearly standalone device. I’ll say it here: I predict a slightly more expensive but well-equipped iPad Mini as e-reader with an eye towards education. I expect Apple to surprise us, and after this year’s iPhone announcement, I’m ready for a few surprises from Cupertino.
Image Credit: Photos.com