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8/15/2012
07:48 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Apple's iPad Mini: Less Is Less Interesting

Whatever the next level is for Apple, the iPad Mini won't be enough to get there. Apple needs another revolutionary product line.

10 Tablets To Shake Up 2012
10 Tablets To Shake Up 2012
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Next month, Apple is widely expected to introduce the iPad Mini, a 7" version of the company's popular iPad. And as usual, Apple's silence about its intentions has invited rampant speculation about the specifics of the device.

It's hard to imagine a less interesting discussion, and yet the tech press is compelled to mull the size, shape, and significance of the iPad Mini because readers have a seemingly insatiable appetite for Apple news. That interest, expressed in search queries, translates into visitor traffic when indulged or the absence of visitor traffic when ignored.

Like lampooned religious arguments about the number of angels able to dance on the head of a pin, the technical hairsplitting about whether the iPad Mini will be more like a large iPod or a small iPad, about the presence or absence of bezels, about the device's actual name--iPad Mini or iPad Air?--has never meant less.

Writing for ZDNet about the iPhone 5, Ben Woods observed that "Apple is in danger of becoming boring."

It's difficult to call a company as laconic as Apple boring. If you want boring, tune into Microsoft's promise to deliver a tablet, now well into its third year.

[ In the market for a new mobile device? Read Tablet Vs. Ultrabook: 10 Ways To Choose. ]

But the iPad Mini, or whatever it ends up being called--the iPod+, the iPad-, or the PodPad--has passed the danger zone. It is boring. Here's why.

1. It's a response rather than an innovation
Apple's co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs in 2010 said, "iPad is our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price." While Apple has applied the term "revolutionary" to dozens of its products, the iPad actually was revolutionary. But two-and-a-half years into the revolution (longer if you count from the launch of the iPhone, the beginning of the modern mobile era), a reduced-size iPad isn't enough to surprise or delight.

Like it or not, Amazon's Kindle line, Google's Asus-made Nexus 7, and Samsung's Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 arrived first. The iPad Mini may be Apple's answer, but it's a reaction rather than a shot across the bow.

Products that come as answers have their limitations. As Picasso famously said about computers, "They are useless. They can only give you answers."

Computers, in other words, would be more interesting if they raised questions. The most interesting technology is that which calls things into question, the products that challenge our assumptions. The iPad, along with the iPhone, called the desktop computer industry and accepted norms of user interaction into question. The iPad Mini is merely an encore performance, an echo of a revolution.

2. Size only matters a little
John Gruber, who writes the Daring Fireball blog, argues that the salient feature of the iPad Mini will be its weight. He speculates that the device will be "remarkably thinner and lighter than its competitors."

That's a reasonable assumption: The third-generation iPad got heavier and thicker to accommodate its Retina display. Since superior display quality doesn't seem to be in the cards for the iPad Mini, Apple is almost obligated to take its device in the other direction, toward maximum thinness.

But that means size--the 7" form factor--isn't a major point of differentiation. And once size isn't part of the equation, you're left with the inescapable conclusion that it's just another iPad.

3. It's in the middle
The iPad Mini is boring because it's in the middle, in between an iPhone and an iPad. It's sure to be just right for some uses and it's sure to find fans. But unless it comes with a whole new set of iCloud services or unanticipated capabilities, it won't do anything better than its smaller and larger relatives.

4. Less is not more
There's a strong argument to be made that when it comes to technology, less is more. That's true when engineers have over-designed a device that would benefit from simplicity. When the iPad is compared to Android tablets, with their more complicated interfaces and menu options, less is more. But sometimes less doesn't really add anything. The iPad Mini needs to surpass the iPad in some significant way if it's going to matter.

5. Mobile won, now what?
Mobile devices won the revolution. It's now safe to assume that they will play an important role in IT for the foreseeable future. But Apple has been innovating in software and services more than hardware lately, as it tries to fortify its iOS empire. Siri and iCloud and new map app infrastructure are more interesting than a resized iPad or the company's recent lackluster revision of its Mac Pro.

Meanwhile, interesting hardware innovations keep showing up as Kickstarter projects.

This presents something of a challenge for Apple. What does it mean to be a maker of devices when the hardware takes a backseat to the software and the cloud services? And can Apple continue to be a hardware leader in an era of crowd-funded development?

Since the late 1990s, Apple has wowed the tech industry with bold designs--the original iMacs shocked the beige Windows world. And the hardware mattered because the CPUs got faster, the form factors shrank, and the graphics capabilities were always better than the year before.

These advances continue, but at a far more leisurely rate. And Apple isn't the only company that understands design and user interaction now. Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, and others get it.

Apple's products are less physically substantial than they used to be and less accessible. Apple's MacBook Pro with Retina display is sealed. Apple TV is a bland, black box. iCloud is intangible. Back when iCloud was Mobile.me at least it came in a shrink-wrapped box. You could injure someone with an original iPod. Throw an iPod Nano at someone and you'll just annoy them.

That's not to say Apple has lost the capacity to impress with its hardware. Apple is at the top of its game. But the problem with being at the top is that it's a lot harder to climb higher than to relax or descend.

Whatever the next level is for Apple, the iPad Mini won't be enough to get there. What does that leave? An Apple television set? That hardly seems like the spark for the next revolution.

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moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
9/3/2012 | 4:00:53 PM
re: Apple's iPad Mini: Less Is Less Interesting
When Apple enters the small tablet market they look at an entirely different audience: people who want a tablet, but don't want to shell out 500 bucks for an overpriced base version of an iPad. If the iPad mini does not clock in at the now established 200 $ line then success is questionable. I also think that 7" screen size is not the sweet spot, not even if it is a wee bit bigger as rumored for the iPad mini. I think the regular iPad has already the best screen size for a tablet, but it is too expensive.
Also, the target for Apple is different. Apple makes the most money from the hardware sale and only slowly grows revenue streams from content sales. Amazon focuses exclusively on content sales and as long as that revenue stream stays strong it is fine to make no money on hardware sales or even take a loss. Amazon also does not need to include hardware that is not supportive of content sales, such as cameras, a bunch of apps, etc. Apple needs to change the mix and sell hardware more at cost than trying to get the big bucks right up front. At the low end of the market price is what matters most.
pkohler01
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pkohler01,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/20/2012 | 8:33:13 PM
re: Apple's iPad Mini: Less Is Less Interesting
You know, I'm not a big Apple fan but this device is interesting to me. I admit, I don't use my iPad like most other people seem to - I never watch video on it, never use it for messaging, I don't play any of the games on it that so many people love. I've found that I like using it to browse the web. That's about it.

I tried using it for ebooks but, its size and weight made that an issue. Try laying in bed with your iPad held at a comfortable position. It gets heavy fast. This compelled me to buy a 7 inch Samsung Android tablet - a device whose usage resulted in my iPad being retired to the bookshelf.

If I didn't have my Android tablet, I would probably be very interested in the mini iPad. My Android tablet kills most of that interest, though. Being able to read any format eBook, access the local file system, and play any format media provides a level of freedom that I have grown to love.

Still, I like that Apple is offering a device with this form factor. While I might not rush out to buy one, I like the idea of there being choice available to users. There's a lot of value in having that variety since consumers will be freed to pick the device and OS that's right for them and their needs.

I think the sentiment in this article hits the nail on the head - a 7 inch iPad really isn't uber exciting at this point. I also like the points you raise here to support the idea that it's really kind of boring news. Still, I really do like reading articles discussing the more superficial aspects of the device - colors, exactly what it will look like. It's not as fun as when they release a new version of the standard iPad or iPhone but, hearing peoples ideas on it stil has entertainment value.

Great article! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Mr. Claburn!
Paloaltogirl
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Paloaltogirl,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/18/2012 | 9:51:15 PM
re: Apple's iPad Mini: Less Is Less Interesting
"In the middle" is no problem for me. As a middle-aged (and proud of it) person, I find the iPhone to be too small to use comfortably, and the iPad to be too big to be portable. This looks like Goldilocks' "just right" size device. If designers (and reviewers) weren't mostly callow young whippersnappers, this might have come out a lot sooner!
jfsn
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jfsn,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/17/2012 | 9:31:28 PM
re: Apple's iPad Mini: Less Is Less Interesting
The true sadness about all this is that John Sculley invented the iPad with his 1985 'Knowledge Navigator' concept which was later robbed by Jesus Steve (oh, yeah: there is a pattern here) and called his own.

The first 'pad' was the 'ThinkPad' in the early nineties that bombed but later flourished as the keyboard-attached ThinkPads which today we know and love.

Messiah Jobs flunked out at NEXT and drug the only toy he had back to Gil Amelios' Apple Computer in the form of OS X.

And, the rest is marketing hype BS.
jfsn
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jfsn,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/17/2012 | 9:22:57 PM
re: Apple's iPad Mini: Less Is Less Interesting
Somehow, words like 'mini-pad' call to mind other elements of the human life experience.
jfsn
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jfsn,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/17/2012 | 9:17:08 PM
re: Apple's iPad Mini: Less Is Less Interesting
I have an armada of Mac gear about me since 2001 when OS X 10.2 was released.

I was a 'switcher' then and loved it!

Today, I ordered a new ThinkPad X Carbon and am loving that! I must be a 're-switcher'!

The Apple fanboy thing for me, at least, is over.

My iPads are basically Netflix movie watching devices and not much more.
ANON1237925156805
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ANON1237925156805,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/17/2012 | 5:22:22 PM
re: Apple's iPad Mini: Less Is Less Interesting
NONE of this hype is coming from Apple. Apple always plays coy of course but in a way that telegraphs what's coming. This feels different. It's as if they are downplaying what they know very well to be not revolutionary but reactionary. Certain Apple fanbois and anti-Apple fanbois are trying to make a big deal out of this and the press is following their lead.

If Apple does come out with an iPod Touch Maxi or an iPad mini, it's because the market told them to. For a company that is in the habit of telling the market what it wants, that's no doubt a humbling experience.

So instead of complaining that Apple is not changing the world, let's give them props for being willing to eat Jobs's famous "no way never" comments about smaller tablets. After all if they were to ignoring this trend and it backfired we'd be all over them. I can write the obituaries in advance: Apple was too rigid and stubborn. They didn't see the future coming. Etc., etc., etc.

One other thought: This device will almost surely be a me too, perhaps with more polished hardware and maybe with a slightly premium price tag. But once Apple is in this space, don't be surprised if they find a way to innovate there too going forward. .
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
8/16/2012 | 6:22:53 PM
re: Apple's iPad Mini: Less Is Less Interesting
I'll have to disagree with you here on the "turning the market on its ear". The two main appeals of 7" tablets is size and price. A small iPad (or large iPod) doesn't bring anything to the market except more money from Apple fans. If you are an Apple fan and you want a smaller iPad, you might buy the Mini. However, if you aren't, there's no reason to believe that the price will be $199 (Apple always overprices it products), so you're better off with a Fire or Nexus.

Apple used to have the easy user experience on lockdown. As an owner of a Fire, a Nook, and an iPad, I can say they are all equally easy to use. I agree with the author that this is reactionary, not innovative, which is what Apple is known for. I predict that comparably, the sales of the Mini will be very lackluster.
catz122
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catz122,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/16/2012 | 3:30:12 PM
re: Apple's iPad Mini: Less Is Less Interesting
Here is another article trying to throw stones at the big guy for the sake of press. The iPad mini isn't the main show in September, it is the iPhone 5. It's going to come out as, "oh, by the way, we made an iPad mini." You are trying to make the point that apple is just being evolutionary instead of revolutionary. They are doing that because they made the game so that they can. They OWN the full size tablet market and it isn't necessarily running in another direction. What has happened is the Kindle Fire and the bunch have shown that there is a market there for lower cost smaller screen tablet devices. Apple has built themselves such a daunting lead in this space when they DID revolutionize it that they can wave a hand with a smaller lower cost iPad and turn that market on it's ear, and you write an article on how the hardware isn't going to be a big change. It is so simple, yet so many writers miss it, the beauty is in the simplicity. There are a lot of companies that have spent a lot of money and a lot of people's jobs on trying to differentiate on hardware. They fail. That isn't where the magic is. The magic is in the OS, interfaces, and apps. Apple owns that. So what that the hardware ends up being a shrunk iPad 2. That's great. I can see this main market being the school kids anyway. IPad is too big and expensive to get around, but the mini would be perfect. You can now afford to have a couple of tablets in a household which is great from a user perspective. And guess what, with the IOS media library that is built, that is going to be a natural extension with the iPad mini. In a world full of companies that are so poorly managed, Apple makes a game that is fun to watch. Please find some better things to write about and just sit back and watch the Apple show as it unfolds.
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