TECHNOLOGY SPECTATOR: It's just a mini iPad

The iPad Mini might not be a revolutionary piece of tech from Apple but it is a huge change of direction for the company in the post-Jobs era.

Technology Spectator

After all of Steve Jobs' trash-talking, Apple has given us the smaller iPad it told us we didn't need.
Apple's one-size-fits-all approach to iGadgets has been the cornerstone of its success for many years. But it wasn't always that way. Today the original iPod turns 11 years old, the device which reinvented the company. The first three iPod models captured Apple a third of the portable music player market, but after two years Apple broke with convention and unveiled a competing model -- the iPod mini. It was smaller, lighter and cheaper than the Classic, but in return you sacrificed significant storage space.

Apple acknowledged that the iPod classic, as we now call it, wasn't suited to all occasions and perhaps not to all budgets. Punters obviously agreed, as by the end of the year Apple now claimed two-thirds of the portable music player market. A year later we saw the iPod shuffle, even small again to cater for music lovers on the go.

It took the iPad a little longer, but it has finally reached the same junction. Two and a half years and three models after the first iPad hit the shelves, Apple has unveiled the iPad Mini to sit alongside it. The Mini features a 7.9-inch display, with the same 1024 by 768 pixel resolution screen and dual-core A5 processor found in the iPad 2. Apart from that it's essentially a smaller version of the iPad 4 which was also released today. Both the new iPad and iPad mini offer the choice of 3G/4G or wi-fi only models at several storage capacities.

It's only seven months after the release of the iPad 3, which has now been scrapped, but the move brings Apple's new smaller Lightning connector to the latest iPad, iPad mini and iPhone -- an important boost for the fledgling Lightning ecosystem.

It's about this time that I should admit I was wrong. The big surprise with the iPad Mini is the lack of surprises. I was certain that Apple would make some significant change with the iPad Mini, either through addition or omission, which would place the iPad Mini as a companion to the iPad rather than an alternative. A lounge room companion, possibly tied in with the Apple TV or even the mythical Apple Television, seemed a likely option.

But Apple's iPad Mini is simply a mini iPad -- no more, no less. The original iPod mini was restricted to 4GB of storage but also introduced the new click-wheel interface -- plenty of incentive to consider adding it to your collection. The other key difference is that Apple hadn't spent the last two years mocking smaller music players and claiming that we didn't need a smaller iPod.

So here we are, with the mini iPad that Steve Jobs said we didn't need. Its killer features are simply size and price. As I said a few weeks ago this is clearly a defensive play for Apple, finally forced to choose between selling an iPad Mini or handing a customer over to Android. The iPad mini's $369 entry point isn't as aggressive as some people would have liked and it will be interesting to see if Apple can claw back ground from cheaper Android competitors such as the slick Nexus 7. Then there are the Windows 8 tablets, which are surprisingly good. The timing of today's iPad Mini launch would seem planned to steal away the limelight from Microsoft's events this week.

Today isn't just a turning point for the iPad, it's also a turning point for Apple. The iPod mini came as Apple's share of the music player market was growing, but the iPad mini comes as Apple's share of the tablet market is shrinking. The Android menace is making its presence felt and Apple has acknowledged that it can no longer play the benevolent dictator and simply tell the people what they need. That is a huge change of direction for Apple in the post-Jobs era, even though Jobs certainly had a hand in the iPad Mini's development.

With the 7.9-inch iPad mini sitting nicely between the 7 and 8.9-inch Android competitors, I think it's unlikely we'll see a third iPad model to further fragment Apple's tablet line up. But it will be interesting to see what the new-look Apple does next, now it's decided that if you can't beat 'em you might as well join 'em in the mini tablet space.