Well, it's official. Apple today announced the iPad Mini, a 7.9-inch version of its immensely popular iPad.
Available beginning November 2, the $329 device should be a top-seller this holiday season. In fact, it's a safe bet that the iPad Mini will join products such as the Kindle Fire HD, Nook HD, and Nexus 7 in winning big sales. But, considering this space is already so crowded, just how will the iPad Mini directly affect Android tablets, and in what capacity?
A pricier point
As is the case with other Apple products, the iPad Mini is priced slightly higher than similar products from other manufacturers. A MacBook typically costs more than an equivalent laptop from another player, and iPods are more expensive than the gadgets that Sandisk or Archos might offer. Yet, while that concept has worked before, it might not translate here.
Just consider that the $329 starting price is nearly double the cost of the new generation of tablets and e-readers. Then, when you factor in the rumors of a $100 Nexus tablet on the horizon, Apple may have a tough time getting budget-minded buyers to part with so much additional cash.
No doubt that an iPad Mini will do quite well with schools and higher education, a sector that Apple has been aggressively pursuing over the past few years. Indeed, Android tablets will continue to have a tough time muscling in on that established ecosystem, and listening to Tim Cook today, it's obvious that Apple is counting on continued success there.
The "average" consumer, however, is another matter. Just as some smartphone buyers doesn't need to spend more than $100 for a handset, I suspect that some will balk at pricey tablets, as well. Because at the end of the day, there's nothing new in the iPad Mini, nor is there anything that would justify the higher cost.
Sure, it's shinier and a bit sexier than other products, but is that enough? Does the thinner bezel really offset the lower-resolution display? I posit that it does not. Also, seeing as the iPad Mini comes with a lower-resolution display than significantly cheaper alternatives, it's a hard sell.
iPad Mini packs a big punch
Even excluding Android, Apple could face competition from another source: itself. Remember that just last month it introduced a new version of its $299 iPod Touch, a product which could cannibalize a $329 iPad Mini.
As I listened to Apple CEO Tim Cook and other execs compare and contrast the iPad Mini to the Nexus 7, I got the sense that Apple is legitimately concerned with the Asus tablet. I've not seen them spend so much time talking about a competitor's device before, and the fact that they were compelled to match up against a $200 product says something.
What's more, it speaks to Android as a platform when Apple doesn't even wait a full year to debut a new iteration for its iPad. Android makes "death by papercut" a reality, even if "death" is simply just a fraction of market share. Apple doesn't seem to mind the sales of the MacBook, calling it the best-selling laptop on the market. It's one model, in a very busy space.
Personally, I welcome the introduction of an iPad Mini, as it should help push Android manufacturers to innovate on a number of fronts. In the same way, I look forward to success out of Microsoft's Surface. And any company looking to separate from the pack will need to compete not just on price, but user experience as well.
Maybe that differentiating experience comes in the form of stylus support, or maybe it's a massive library of books and magazines. Whatever it is, though, tablet makers are focusing on the stuff you can do with your device and not just the hardware inside., which is why I can't imagine anyone complaining about more awesome stuff at ultra-competitive price points. As an ecosystem, Android benefits when the Kindle Fire HD and the Nook HD sell well.
So what does all of this mean to Android tablet makers and other devices in the same space? Most likely, not a whole lot will change, especially in the short term. The prices of all devices will continue to bottom out, consumers get more bang for their bucks, and Android will become the preferred OS for tablets and e-readers.
Hard-core Apple fans will keep buying Apple products, and the introduction of a new product just gives them something new to pick up. Yet, the first generation of Kindle Fire proved that millions of buyers would forgo high-end hardware if the price was right. Looking at today's announcement, the iPad is more of the same from Apple, just smaller.