The case for (and against) a smaller 'iPad mini'

Speculation of a smaller iPad seems relentless, so I examine the arguments for why it would--or would not--be a good idea.

There have been rumors of a smaller 7-inch iPad since...well, since the original iPad hit the street. With the launch of the Amazon Kindle Fire, though, followed by the announcement of the Google Nexus 7, speculation has once again reached a fever pitch.

Is a smaller iPad a good idea? It has its merits. But, there are also a number of reasons not to do it. Let's take a look at the case for and against an "iPad Mini".

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First, the arguments in favor of an iPad Mini:

Bigger Isn't Always Better

The iPad is a phenomenal device. But, as thin and light as it is, it is too large to fit in an average-sized woman's purse, and it can be a bit unwieldy to hold and use one-handed for extended periods of time.

Smaller devices like the Kindle Fire, Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, or the new Google Nexus 7 aren't true one-handed devices since you can't reach all areas of the display while holding it with one hand. Still, there's something to be said for the smaller, lighter form factor, and the relative success of the Kindle Fire suggests there's a market there for an economy tablet.

Some People Won't Spend $500

Speaking of economy tablets, for some people it's purely a matter of economics. The smartphone is essentially required technology at this point, and has a lot of overlap with the capabilities of a tablet. But, the smartphone display is too small for many productivity tasks.

People in the market for a touchscreen device larger than their smartphone may find tablets like the iPad, or equivalent Android rivals compelling, but simply don't have the $400 or more to spend on a device. That may explain the success of the Samsung Galaxy Note "phablet" that tries to be both devices at once.

For cost-conscious users, a $200 tablet is a much easier extravagance to justify.

Stepping Stone (or Gateway Drug)

On that note, an iPad Mini also fills a gap in the iOS ecosystem. As it stands now, younger users can get started with an iPod Touch, and then when they're in the market for a smartphone the iPhone makes perfect sense because it's essentially the same device and they're already invested in the apps and culture.

A tablet might be the next logical step in that iOS progression, but size and cost are both factors again. A smaller, cheaper iPad gives iPhone users a stepping stone to work up to the iPad.

If Apple doesn't offer an iPad Mini, it may break the cycle and surrender this middle market to the competition. Once they transition to another platform, they'll be invested in that ecosystem and it will be that much harder to win them back if they choose to buy a larger tablet in the future.

OK. Now, let's take a look at some reasons Apple shouldn't offer an iPad Mini:

It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

Apple's iPad currently dominates the tablet market the way it is in now. Yes, the Amazon Kindle Fire has been relatively successful--the first "Android" tablet to achieve any sales worth talking about--but it is hardly a threat at this point.

Initial reviews of the Galaxy Nexus 7 indicate that it's a compelling gadget...for those in the market for a smaller, cheaper tablet. The question is, "How big is that market, and is it worth chasing?"

Apple already offers a cheaper tablet by continuing to sell the older iPad 2 for $400--$100 less than the entry-level New iPad. It seems premature for Apple to bother developing and selling a device that might cannibalize sales of the full-sized iPad, and possibly cut into profits.

Display Fragmentation

As it is, popular apps like Facebook and LinkedIn seemed to take forever to accommodate the iPad display. Google just announced an iPad version of the Google+ app will be coming soon, and other apps like Path and Pinterest sorely need an iPad version, but don't yet offer one.

Developers would have to modify existing apps to accommodate the new screen size, or develop new apps specific to the iPad Mini display. Magnifying an app designed for the smaller iPhone display results in a poor, grainy experience, and users get frustrated waiting for apps to be developed for the iPad display.

Introducing a third size would complicate matters even further for both developers and users.

Too Many Devices

The iPad Mini concept is a solution for a problem that doesn't really exist. It can't actually replace the iPhone or the iPad--or a smartphone and larger tablet if you want to look at it from outside of the sphere of iOS products--which means you'd sort of need all three.

Nobody is going to give up their iPhone or smartphone in favor of a 7-inch tablet. If tablet sales to date are any indication, the vast majority of users would rather have a larger tablet than a 7-inch version. If users aren't willing to give up the larger tablet in exchange for the smaller one, that means they'd end up with all three devices.

With all three devices at your disposal, there seem to be relatively few scenarios where the iPad Mini would be the best choice. That leaves an iPad Mini as an unnecessary, decadent addition to the mix.

It's hard to ignore the constant, persistent rumors and speculation that a smaller iPad is imminent, but there are also a number of reasons it would be a bad idea for Apple to pander to that market. What do you think?

This story, "The case for (and against) a smaller 'iPad mini'" was originally published by PCWorld.

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