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.