The BIG Opportunity for the iPad Mini

by Ben Bajarin   |   October 19th, 2012

Let me start this column off explaining why I was skeptical of a smaller iPad in Apple’s offering. I have been bullish on tablets from the beginning. From my first experience with the iPad I knew Apple was on to something. In my opinion the iPad in its current form has not reached its full potential as a personal mobile computer. Because I am convinced this is true, the scenario of a smaller iPad that would inevitably cannibalize and potentially delay the potential of the iPad in its current form seemed like a poor long term strategy. However, something I have been thinking about lately may be the key for these products to co-exist and fulfill fundamentally different needs of consumers.

I’ve convinced myself that for Apple to have two different sized iPads, they need to be positioned differently and poised to tackle different market needs. Unlike notebooks, where screen size is partially a matter of preference, but also a matter of primary tasks, tablets play a different role in the lives of consumers. I am a big believer that the iPad in its current form can suffice for many mass market consumers as a notebook replacement. I do not believe the same is true of of a smaller iPad. These two different sized iPads will also offer different software experiences. I do not believe that we will simply see scaled up iPhone apps or scaled down versions of current iPad apps on an iPad mini. This product will shine with custom applications and experiences built for the new screen size.

From Mine to Ours

The BIG opportunity I see for the iPad Mini is to cater to how families or communities use these devices as shared screens in a communal environment. I’ve articulated this before, the concept of a shared screen versus a personal screen, and I think the 7-8″ tablet may represent the perfect form factor for a shared device. Take for example what both Amazon and Barnes and Noble have done in this space.

The Amazon Kindle Fire HD tablet with its FreeTime feature is a solid step in the right direction toward family tablet computing. This solution offers parents the ability to set parental controls for their kids so as they enter FreeTime mode, children are presented with a kid-friendly user interface and access to only approved applications and abilities. Parents can also set limits on how many hours per day kids can play games or watch videos.

Barnes & Noble took Amazon’s important FreeTime concept even further by introducing profiles to the Nook HD. This allows consumers to set up a number of different profiles for each family member. This way, when a particular user logs in, they see only the books, magazines and applications that are of interest to them. Another well thought out part of profiles is that if two people are reading the same book in different profiles, the Nook HD will keep each person’s last read point for them so that they’re not constantly trying to find where they left off. User profiles deliver powerful features and are the best example to date of how a tablet can deliver on a shared family computing experience.

These are experiences that I think shine on a communal or shared screen. These experiences can exist of course on larger tablets but I have a hunch that the smaller tablet form factor will encourage the shift away from the sentiment that the device is mine to the device is ours.

This shift in sentiment from mine to ours could pave the way for entire new software experiences. Just looking at the previous examples I gave from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, show how they are thinking uniquely about this from a software standpoint. I would argue that Apple’s ecosystem is even stronger across the board when you incorporate others screens as well as iCloud to foster and embrace the shift of some devices being ours rather than mine.

What encourages me about this thinking is that it genuinely appeals to the way consumers are using these devices. Some products fit well as a personal product. My smartphone for example is mine and is tied to me in unique ways. The smartphone will also be mine and never ours. A notebook also follows very personal use cases and highly personalized to the individual. The tablet however may be owned by one person but still shared by many in family environments. It is something unique to the tablet form factor that it can comfortably be mine and ours simultaneously. But to my point above, I believe that the smaller tablets those in the 7-8 inch range fit this new paradigm nicely.

Now, I have no idea if the iPad Mini will launch catering to anything I’ve proposed in this column. My point is that whether or not Apple believes it, I believe this is the big opportunity for a smaller iPad. It would be uniquely positioned and create a strong loyalty and stickiness to Apple’s ecosystem for not just the individual but the family as a whole.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • FalKirk

    “…for Apple to have two different sized iPads, they need to be positioned differently and poised to tackle different market needs.”

    I, too, was very skeptical of a 7 inch iPad and for some of the same reasons as you, Ben. Apple’s products are always carefully differentiated, and I didn’t see how the iPad mini would fit into the Apple lineup. I’m actually still waiting to see exactly what Apple has in mind. But since it’s clear that Apple is doing a 7 inch iPad, here are a couple of ideas I’ve had on how Apple might position the product:

    – First, and most importantly, I think that the iPad mini will run scaled down iPad apps, not scaled up iPhone apps. This is a crucial differentiator. Steve Jobs is often mocked for his comments on having to “sand-paper down your fingers” in order to use a 7 inch tablet, but if you take into account that he was talking about the then 7 inch tablets – which were 45% the size of an iPad – that the proposed iPad mini would be 7.85 inches – which means that it is 65% the size of the current iPad and perfectly proportional when iPad apps are used – his comments make perfect sense.

    – The iPad mini might be impossibly thin and light, making it much easier to transport and much easier to hold (reading and watching media).

    – The iPad mini might be targeted towards reading.

    – The iPad min might be targeted towards education.

    Your suggestion – that the iPad be used as a shared device – is an intriguing one, but I’m highly skeptical. It’s a good idea, but Apple doesn’t seem to get “shared” (look at iTunes and iCloud accounts). I hope you’re right and I’m wrong.

    I think Apple may sell the iPad mini as a “personal” device and the iPad as a “professional” devices. The iPad mini is for reading, it’s for entertainment, it’s for you. The iPad is for presentations and screen intensive apps. We’ll see on the 23rd.

    • benbajarin

      I suspect you are right for the initial launch but hopefully this is the direction, or at least support for this direction gets included over time.

      There will certainly be people who want to use it as theirs and only theirs and that is fine but it will be important to include things like parental controls and other key elements to support the shift from mine to ours in the near term.

      Also this shift does not necessarily mean you sell less. THere will still be demand for all members in the house to have equal access to a shared screen. It may just simply be person agnostic. Anyone can pick it up, let it know who they are and start using it. This is an important direction going forward in my opinion.

      • Rich

        Ben,

        Honestly the way I see it is that the Mini (being the less expensive device) would be more likely bought in multiples, consequently each one would be thought of as “mine,” and the larger iPad (being the more expensive one) would be more likely bought singly and be shared.

    • steve_wildstrom

      Apple can do just fine on shared when they want to. All they really need to do is add multiple user accounts and parental controls and the hooks for both exist in iOS because they can be ported over from OS X. However, I don’t expect either will be part of the initial iPad Mini release because there is absolutely no indication of the new iOS version that would be required. (I’ll be happy to be proved wrong on this.)

      One additional use for a smaller iPad is as a universal remote for networked devices (which is rapidly becoming everything.) I already use both an iPhone and an iPad to control both by Sonos audio system and my FiOS set top box. But the iPhone is a little too small, while the iPad is a little too big and heavy. A smaller tablet could very well be the Goldilocks device.

      Here’s an ambitious project for Apple: Build an app and service like Passbook, but for device remotes, to create a common container and interface. I doubt it will happen, since it will require close cooperation between Apple and other consumer electronics companies, something Apple doesn’t do very well. But it would be nice.

  • dasher

    Its simple really, this is all about money and market share.
    The Nexus 7 and Amazon devices are selling well, Apple is missing out on that share and want a piece of it, and a BIG piece it will be!
    I can assure you these mini’s will sell like hot cakes before Christmas, especially if the price is right.
    The current iPad for my liking is too bulky, I laugh when I see people at sporting events holding this slab in the air to take a photo, its just not a portable device that can be used discreetly, this is where the mini comes in.
    I cannot see there being specific apps for the mini, what works on an iPad pretty much works on something smaller, the iPhone and iPod touch ring a bell?

    • FalKirk

      “The Nexus 7 and Amazon devices are selling well” – dasher

      Proof please. This is a totally unsupported assumption that is repeated every day in the tech press.

      – Amazon never released any figures for the Kindle fire. Amazon said that they had 22% of U.S. market share which is meaningless unless we know the number sold and the number they were deriving that percentage from. Asymco estimated that 5 million copies may have been sold over a 9 month period. Horace Dediu is very good but his numbers are based on rumors and reports. Amazon has never released any numbers regarding the Amazon Kindle. Until they do, we need to challenge the presumption that the devices are selling well.

      – Google has never released any figures for the Nexus 7. They just had a grand opportunity to do so at their earnings call. They didn’t say a thing. ‘Nuff said.

      Google has never released any numbers regarding the Nexus 7. Until they do, we need to challenge the presumption that the devices are selling well.

      Amazon and Google are getting away with PR highway robbery. EVERYONE says that their 7 inch tablets are selling well and NO ONE is providing any proof. Amazon and Google need to be challenged. No numbers, no credit.

      • http://www.facebook.com/THExREALxTACO Jeremy Taco Patterson

        That is one thing I have always respected Apple for: They reveal REAL numbers for the public, good or bad.

        And as you guys have said previously, if the Google/Kindle devices REALLY were selling that well, it seems they’d WANT to make that information well-known.

        Now, I’m off to bug the kids at the Apple Store about the Mini.

      • pawhite524

        “In God we trust, all others must provide hard data…”

  • Jurassic

    The original iPod was joined first by the iPod mini, then the Shuffle, then the iPod Touch.

    All of those iPods sold well, and met the differing needs and budgets of consumers.

    There is no reason why adding to the iPad family will not be just as successful.

    • benbajarin

      I’m not saying it won’t just that it needs to solve new problems and address non-met market needs not just be smaller and cheaper. That is my hope as they are both refined that they get refined in unique ways to the role they serve in the market.

      I’m sure they will sell a ton, and part of my thinking on this is more about the long term than the short term. Differentiation is the name of the game and that gets increasingly more important as a market gets saturated.

      • Matang_Lawin

        Ben you’re kinda pushing this far with thinking Ipad mini will have custom apps. You’re digging dip in that head of yours when the answer is right there on your face. With the virtual endless areay of apps already available in app store, developers will just scale down apps to perfectly fit the Ipad. At the end of the day, you seem to be forgetting that Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs. At some point the things are changing now drastically with Tim on the helm. You could just see it basing on how their stocks are performing now. From record 700 to low 609 and fluctuating. This due to app maps and missed sales due to challenges in manufacturing. I believe they couldve prevented this if Tim was not so much focused on increasing em sales.

  • FSRA

    Regarding the apps, I think that it would be most certain that they would scale down the iPad apps, since the screen is not that much smaller. The thing is, how much would this affect the user experience? It’s gonna be up to each developer to decide whether to design specific apps for each screen size.

  • pawhite524

    Terrific read and comments. This why I value Techpinions so highly.

    The art of salesmanship is to push enough buttons on the potential buyer that the head is nodding “Yes” rather than shaking, “No.” Unless that “No” is a “Yes” as in “You want your children to have access to the latest computer tech but do you really want them playing tug of war with your new $829.00 iPad 64 GB/LTE? That is why this $249 model provides a win-win for you and your family…”

    This article and the collective comments give all the head nods Apple could possibly want. The proposed size would also be pretty ideal as a game controller as the Touch and iPhone have always been too small for the “big mitts” members of my family.

    I think Rich has a very good point about more than one of these ending up in a household with kids or smaller handed adults.

  • diddler

    ‘This shift in sentiment from mine to ours’ – I love this line. Only this morning did my wife decide to stop calling my iPad ‘your iPad’ or ‘Daddy’s iPad’ and started calling it ‘the family iPad’. I might have to buy a mini and hide it.

  • Neil J. Squillante

    I disagree with Ben but a good read as always. Apple wants to sell as many iPads as possible. Sharing doesn’t support this goal. Amazon wants to sell Kindles only to those who buy lots of stuff from Amazon. Thus, sharing makes sense — more stuff sold per Kindle. As for me, I will likely buy two minis. How’s that for personal! One for consuming content at home and one to finally replace the small paper notebook on my desk at work. The current iPad is too large for both of these uses. I’m looking forward to finally having all of my notes in one place instead of in a bunch of physical notebooks — and searchable by the tags I apply to each set of notes to boot. Now I just need to find the best note-taking app for my needs …

    • benbajarin

      Thanks for sharing Neil. I appreciate disagreement as well, I think it is key in the sharpening of thought process. What I would offer up as a counter point is that just because sharing or the idea of devices moving from mine to ours does not necessarily mean you sell less of them. I think you could still make a case in this scenario that each person in the family would want equal access to the screen, therefore their would be one for each person, only each screen is not tied directly to one single individual.

      Here is why I think that. I happen to be living in this scenario right now, probably in a way that is the extreme but I am seeing this play out. I currently in my house have 10 tablets. I have a household of 4 people. 4 of those tablets are iPads, the rest are a mix of Android and Windows 8. For this purpose let’s focus on the iPad.

      Having four iPads, each person in my family has access to each one individually. We actually have ones that belong to each person, however, the apps, media, etc are all the same because my family shares an iTunes account. The main difference are the ones for my wife and I because it has our email on it. So for me to check my email on iPad I need to find my iPad.

      Now in this environment, my home, I don’t carry my iPad around with me all the time. Sometimes its by my bed, sometimes its in my office, sometimes, it by the couch, sometimes the kitchen etc.. Now when I get an inkling and need my iPad I usually have to go look for it. More often than not, I see an iPad that it is not mine before I find mine. This is because we have many therefore they are almost always laying around somewhere. So if I just want to browse the web for example, I pick up whoever’s is closest or more convenient.

      Of course it would be more convenient if no matter who’s screen I picked up, I can log in and get access to my bookmarks, my email, etc… Having all these screens does not make us desire less screens, meaning we look at it and say we can live with one family iPad. The contrary is that often times everyone wants to use it at the same time, especially in the evening. Therefore if there was only one there would be a fight over it and everyone would have to share.

      All I am promoting in terms of the use case is the disassociating and unbinding the hardware to the person and making that bond with the cloud. That way no matter what device I log in to my stuff, whatever that may be, is always there.

      Again, in our experience the case is still extremely strong that there is a screen for every member, only that it doesn’t’ matter which screen is yours.

  • Guest

    Very interesting observations Ben. I can envision the new device becoming a utilitarian, knock-around sort of device (being associated with an “ours” mentality), but only if its sticker price is around that of the iPod touch (under $300) and the purchaser integrates it into a transmedia/remote system (e.g. apple tv, apple air devices, iCloud, and remote systems as mentioned by steve_wildstrom).

  • Maxwell

    Very interesting observations Ben. I can envision the new device becoming a utilitarian, knock-around sort of device (being associated with an “ours” mentality), but only if its sticker price is around that of the iPod touch (under $300) and the purchaser integrates it into a transmedia/remote system (e.g. apple tv, apple air devices, iCloud, and remote systems as mentioned by steve_wildstrom).