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iPad Mini: 6 Reasons Apple Must Do It

Apple has good reasons to think smaller with its next iPad, as a Google Android tablet waits in the wings.

10 Things Tablets Still Can't Do
10 Things Tablets Still Can't Do
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Later this year, Google and its Android partners are expected to try yet again to produce a tablet that surpasses Apple's iPad.

Digitimes reported last month that Google and Asus will introduce a 7-inch co-branded tablet that will be priced in the $199 to $249 range. Though the Taiwan-based publication says the device--let's call it the Google Tab (Goosus Tab just doesn't work)--could be ready as soon as May, subsequent reports indicate a June release is more likely.

Google's annual developer conference starts on June 27. And during previous developer conferences, Google has given attendees Android phones and tablets. History appears to be poised to repeat itself.

The odds that Google and friends will succeed are slim, but at least someone is trying. Apple's dominance in the mobile device market is such that you almost have to root for the underdog, if only to keep Apple from resting on its laurels.

[ Read Google CEO Larry Page Touts First-Year Accomplishments. ]

As Daring Fireball blogger John Gruber noted in November, there's no contest yet. Taking issue with the way research firm NPD framed its tablet sales statistics, he suggested that another way to interpret the numbers "is that 92% of U.S. tablet buyers considered an iPad, and 89% bought an iPad, which means 97% of tablet buyers who merely considered an iPad bought an iPad, and if not for the 8% of tablet buyers who for whatever reason did not consider an iPad, none of these companies [HP, Samsung, ASUS, Motorola, Acer] would have sold even 100,000 tablets over the first nine months of 2011."

As it turns out, there is a way to beat Apple: Compete in a market where Apple isn't present. The most successful tablet not named iPad appears to be Amazon's 7-inch Kindle Fire, which sold about 4.7 million units in Q4 2011, according to IDC.

But it's doubtful that Apple will remain absent from this market for long. Gruber in a recent podcast said he'd heard from several sources that Apple has been testing a 7.85" iPad internally. Digitimes said as much last December.

A smaller iPad is coming and it will be huge. Here are six reasons why we'll see an iPad Mini, or whatever Apple finally decides to call it.

The 9.7-inch iPad Is Too Heavy
At 1.44 pounds, or 652 grams, the new iPad (Wi-Fi version) weighs a bit too much for prolonged reading. Matching the weight of a slender magazine--about 3.3 ounces--is probably too much to ask. But something in the 14 ounce range would make the iPad Mini better suited for reading e-books.

A 7.85-inch iPad Fits In More Bags
For men, fitting an iPad into one's bag--a backpack, messenger bag, or briefcase--generally isn't a problem. Many women also carry bags large enough to accommodate an iPad, though quite a few favor handbags that are smaller. A scaled-down iPad would fit more comfortably into a larger selection of bags, making it a more appealing form factor for use outside the home.

A 7.85-inch iPad Would Cost Less
The new iPad starts at $499. That's about $400 from the ideal consumer price point for truly mass-market consumer electronics. With the iPad 2 priced at $399, the iPad Mini might be offered for as little as $299--it would have to be under $300 to woo customers away from Amazon's $199 Kindle Fire.

It remains to be seen whether Apple wants to go that low in its pricing. The iPhone 4S is estimated to cost $188 to manufacture. The iPad Mini would presumably cost more, giving Apple a relatively low profit margin--and Apple doesn't like selling goods with low profit margins. But perhaps it can make the math work given its economies of scale.

Kids Could Handle A 7-inch iPad Better
Kids love the iPad. They love the touchscreen. But the iPad is a bit large and a bit heavy for smaller tykes. The iPad Mini would be just right.

A 7.85-inch iPad Fits Many Work Scenarios Better
Sometimes, a 9.7-inch iPad is well-suited for business use. It's perfect for placing self-service orders at sandwich shops, a use-case that's becoming surprisingly common in San Francisco. But it's a bit bulky for those waiting tables or engaged in other business activities where data entry doesn't have to be made consumer-friendly with a big screen and stupid-proof UI.

Apple Can't Afford To Ignore A Proven Market
The late Steve Jobs dismissed 7-inch tablets as unworkable for adult fingers. "Apple's done extensive user-testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff," he said during an investor conference call in October, 2010. "There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them. This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps."

However, Jobs was not infallible. The market has spoken and sub-10-inch tablets are selling. Kindle Fires and Nook tablets are in demand. Samsung last month said it had sold some 5 million of its 5.3-inch Galaxy Note devices--dubbed "phablets" by some for being neither phones nor tablet.

The iPad Mini must be. The question is only when.

Editor's Choice
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Pam Baker, Contributing Writer
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Greg Douglass, Global Lead for Technology Strategy & Advisory, Accenture
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter