iPad Mini: The iPad in the Palm of Your Hand

on October 23, 2012

Today’s Apple event was perhaps one of the more interesting to me for a variety of reasons. Apple made a number of announcements that in my opinion give them a strong lineup for this holiday season. Apple has made advances in almost every one of their products in just the last few months. But all eyes today were on the newest member of the iPad family–The iPad Mini.

It took me a long time to come to grips with the reality that Apple was making a smaller iPad. If you have read much of what I have written over the past few months, I explain my belief that the iPad has not yet reached its full potential, and I was concerned that releasing a smaller iPad may deter or delay the iPad reaching its full potential. I was also very keen on some specific and unique positioning for the iPad mini as I stated in a column last Friday. I still believe specific features for families and communities are important going forward but after soaking in the breadth and depth of the Apple announcements from today’s event, my thinking has altered slightly.

It Fits in the Palm of Your Hand

For me the moment of clarity, was when they showed a slide of the new iPad, the iPad Mini, being held comfortably in the palm of a hand. This slide was articulated with the key point that this iPad, the iPad Mini, can do something the iPad can not–fit in the palm of your hand.

This has clearly been a benefit of the 7″ tablet experience if you have ever used one. There was something to being able to hold it easily in one hand. In fact in many of my columns on the 7-8″ tablet form factor, many of our smart commenters remarked on their excitement, or anticipation, of the 7″ tablet form factor because of it being lighter but also easy to hold with one hand.

This is certainly the draw back of the iPad in some but not all use cases. For example, reading on the iPad while laying in bed, reclined, or any position where you are holding the tablet with one hand can be uncomfortable if done for long periods of time. I was thinking about this the other day as I was reflecting on how much I like reading with the Kindle Paperwhite. The primary reason being because it is very light and holding it up for long periods of time during reading requires almost no effort. Paper books are light, and easy to hold. Smaller tablets and e-readers mimic a very natural book like feeling because they are light. This is one of several clear advantages of the smaller tablet form factor.

The first thing that struck me with some of the time I spent handling the iPad Mini was how light it was. By contrast the Kindle Paperwhite with 6″ screen size is .47 pounds and .36 inches thick. The iPad mini is .68 lbs and .28 inches think. I brought my Kindle Paperwhite to the event and held them simultaneously. It was tough to tell the difference in weight.

By taking on the task of delivering a smaller iPad to the market, Apple has in turn designed one of their best iPads yet. But the smaller form factor and cutting edge design is not the only part of the story.

How is it Different than Competing Smaller Tablets?

The answer–as is the case with many platforms–is apps. I was wrong (at least for now) in my initial assumption that the smaller screen size would require custom made apps for the small screen. Apple, by making the screen 7.9 inches, was able to keep the identical resolution as the iPad, so all apps run and look exactly the same. Although slightly scaled down, the apps function and look exactly the same on both the iPad and the Mini. The iPad Mini is literally a full iPad experience in the palm of your hand.

As I reflected on this, I realized I have never personally experienced scaled down tablet apps on a smaller tablet. This is because 7″ Android tablets run scaled up apps built for the smartphone. This means you are running a small screen app and user interface on a larger screen. Apps built for the small screen, were built for just that, a smaller screen.

Yelp on Nexus 7 vs. iPad Mini
Apple showed side by side comparisons of the same smartphone app running on the Nexus 7 and the same iPad app running on the iPad mini. This image is the only one you would need to see to grasp the full value of Apple’s approach with the iPad Mini. The difference in the software experience between a smaller tablet running smartphone apps and a smaller tablet running tablet apps is night and day. The bottom line is that there are only a few hundred tablet apps for Android and several hundred thousand for iPad. This alone gives the iPad Mini a clear and distinct advantage in my opinion. Whether that experience is worth the extra money for consumers will be up to them, but I know it would be worth it to me.

This experience is so new, that it will take time to form a more lengthy analysis of its potential impact. However, what Apple has done with the industrial design is more than impressive. At .68 lbs, 7.2 mm thin, with a 7.9″ screen, running all the over 250,000 iPad apps, Apple has brought the full iPad experience to the palm of a hand. And with an entry price of $329 my guess is it will get into more palm’s than ever before.