The iPad Mini doesn't exist. Not yet. It could, possibly as soon as this fall — despite the best wishes of Steve Jobs — and it will certainly be a punch right to the gut of every Android tablet manufacturer out there.
Manufacturers have effectively ceded to the iPad's dominance, which has had ascendancy over the tablet market since it was introduced in 2010. Ask anyone on the street to name an alternative to Apple's tab (barring the Kindle Fire) and I guarantee they'd be hard pressed to call one out. That's the kind of mind (and market) share Apple has achieved over the past few years. Who can, or even wants to, compete with that?
That's not to say there aren't exceptional options out there. Most recently, Asus launched its Transformer Pad Infinity, which is a fantastic Android tablet that deserves a wider audience. But it won't get the attention, even though it has superior specs and great software. Not while the iPad and its expansive app ecosystem are around.
Amazon was the first to devise a new way to approach Apple's puissance. Instead of merely scaling down to a smaller form factor, the online retailer also shrunk the price significantly when it introduced the Kindle Fire last year. Seriously, $200 for what you get is almost on the impulse buy level. By taking an initial hit on individual units sold, Amazon banked on recouping its losses through its ecosystem of apps, books, movies and music. While the device wasn't particularly innovative in and of itself, the price was.
The iPad right now is expensive. It is a premium item that would even take a nibble out of Scrooge McDuck's fortune. Not everyone can afford $500+ of machinery in addition to a computer or smartphone, whether it's an iPad or not — though that hasn't stopped the millions and millions of consumers around the world from picking Apple's tab up. As such, manufacturers are beginning to follow Amazon's lead.
Google's new Nexus 7, while not directly competing with the iPad itself, will no doubt give a lot of folks food for thought when weighing up a $500 purchase over a tablet that costs $200. Price alone, however, doesn't automatically mean success for anyone who isn't Apple. According to data collected from CIRP, the new iPad's biggest competitor right now is the $400 iPad 2, even with cheaper and higher spec'd options on the market.
I have no doubts the Nexus 7 will be successful. It has the best version of Android Google has ever released, and it has hardware that feels much more premium than the $200 asking price would suggest. But if Apple crashed the party with an iPad Mini? Google's device might not even have the chance to reach its full market potential. That's a shame.
Google's products, as they exist now, are still by and large designed by and for geeks. Google Glass? Are people ready to wear a computer on their face? There's no doubt that Android smartphones have been a runaway success, but Android tablets? Not so much. The Nexus 7 can change that. The iPad Mini can ruin that forever.
Steve Jobs previously said that tablets in the 7-inch range are "too small to express the software." But things change, and the market evolves. When Jobs uttered those words back in 2010, the iPad essentially had no competition. Today? It's being undercut by two very well known companies. Do you expect Apple to sit around and allow that to happen, especially with Cook at the helm, a guy who has been described as being much more business minded than Jobs?
By introducing a smaller iPad, Apple will attract an audience that may have felt the Cupertino company's current tab was too big. A 9.7-inch screen is great for media consumption at home, but that size may be a bit too cumbersome to carry and put away on a whim while out and about. And the iPod Touch? Too small for most.
But the most important thing? A smaller iPad would immediately stomp out any and all threats.
Apple could market it like this: The new iPad is more for "content creation," a high-end device for those looking for great specs, storage and screen real estate. An iPad Mini can be purely, unequivocally for media consumption, and media consumption alone — apps, games, movies, books and magazines. It'll be thin, light, fast and have access to the largest ecosystem on the market. And if it's priced at $250-$350 range, do you expect most average (stress, average) consumers to pick up a Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire over that kind of deal?
Apple has consistently varied sizes of its product lineup to appeal to a wider market. Just look at the iPod family: the iPod, iPod mini, iPod shuffle, iPod nano, iPod Touch — all of which helped the Cupertino company completely and utterly dominate the portable music player industry. Over the past three years, the iPad as we know it hasn't changed much — it added a camera here, a better screen there and a faster processor, all while slimming the device down. Generally, though, it's very much the same product. Why change a good thing? With an iPad Mini, Apple could vary it's iPad lineup enough to entice holdouts, giving the market three flavors to choose from — new iPad, iPad 2 and iPad Mini. And if it hits around the suspected October timeframe, that would align the device perfectly to do battle during the busy holiday period.
The potential x-factor here is whether or not Apple is willing to cannibalize sales of iPads it sells now, because that'll almost certainly happen. But at the expense of stifling interest in competing 7-inch tabs? Why not? Apple's disdain for everything Android is consuming the company, as proved by the numerous lawsuits it continues to jump into around the world.
The Cupertino company absolutely has money to burn, and it's not content with world domination — it wants to wipe everyone else off the map. The iPad Mini, if it comes to exist, could turn out to be a calculated step toward making that happen.