Rumours are out that a smaller and less-expensive version of Apple’s best-selling iPad tablet computer may be announced soon. Dubbed the “iPad Mini” by rumour mongers, Bloomberg reports the new product is likely to have a 7- to 8-inch screen diagonally and be priced at $199 in the United States. This would put the new Apple gadget squarely within the low-range tablet market that Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are vying for dominance in.
Apple through its existing iPad line already has a solid hold on the tablet PC market. But the competition for dominance over the lower-end market for $200-$300 devices is heating up. Google had earlier announced the launch of its Nexus 7 tablet which is also priced at $199.
But these devices are but commodity components in what is shaping into the real battle: assimilation of consumers into one “cloud”-based digital “ecosystem” or another — Apple’s iTunes network, Google Play, and Amazon’s online stores. The new iPad “mini” if it is indeed in the works will be a significant milestone in the slide to commodity pricing oblivion of handheld touchscreen devices with the user experience and richness of the ecosystems becoming more the source of the value proposition of — and differentiation among — these Net titans.
The tablet itself is not a big deal as the featurelessness of most touchscreen devices, modern low-cost electronics manufacturing, and good old-fashioned Asian-style industrial espionage has largely rendered the mobile computing hardware industry a scorched-earth price war battlefield of increasingly undifferentiated devices.
This strategy is nothing new as phone companies have for so long either lost money or just broke even on hardware (the actual mobile phone handsets) and made their money on software and services (access to their telecommunications network). But with Apple having the sleeker and bigger content distribution network among the players, not to mention its formidable brand “coolness” equity, its entry into the scene will be the thing to watch. Consider too that, as was noted by Farhad Manjoo writing for Slate, the late former Apple CEO Steve Jobs back in 2010 dismissed 7-inch tablets as “tweeners”; “too big to compete with a smartphone, and too small to compete with an iPad.”
Jobs thought 7-inch tablets were too small. Apple’s user testing had revealed that “there are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touchscreen before users cannot reliably tap, flick, or pinch them,” Jobs said. As a result, these tiny tablets would need to be sold with sandpaper, he predicted, “so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one-quarter of their present size.” He wasn’t finished: Because most tablet owners also have a smartphone, people would find that these tiny tablets didn’t offer anything they couldn’t do on their phones.
Just how many devices does one need at any one time? Looks like it is not up to the consumer to decide as they will simply be wowed by the coolness of the incredible shrinking prices of all these devices that beckon them to open their wallets.
[NB: Pictured is the iPad 5.]