Ding, dong, the Mini’s dead. Apple’s iPad Mini 3 will almost certainly be the tiny tab’s unfortunate swan song, reports Dean Quinn, and here’s why.
You know how it goes – anticipation builds for months about Apple’s next big announcement, the speculation floodgates bursting open as the world and his wife tries to second-guess what the Cupertino chaps will announce. It’s a dance as old as time itself, but Apple’s latest iPad launch was a little different…
Just over a week ago, Apple’s Phil Schiller took to the stage in San Fran and finally showed off the sleek and slim iPad Air 2. What we didn’t expect was the scant attention devoted to the latest iPad Mini. You see, whilst the virtues of the svelte iPad Air 2 were extolled with that trademark Apple pizzazz, the new iPad Mini 3 was tacked on at the end almost like an ‘oh, yeah, and then there’s…’ afterthought.
When you look at the spec sheet however, it’s not hard to see why.
Is that all you’ve got?
Apple’s iPad Mini 2 hit the shelves back in November 2013, boasting a new Retina display, powerful A7 chip, a fresh 32GB variant and the choice of the bog-standard silver colourway or the futuristic ‘space grey’. The sharper, more responsive screen alone made it a worthy upgrade, fixing a major problem with the original tab.
The freshly-baked iPad Mini 3 hit shelves this week rocking more or less the exact same specs and features, save for the addition of a home-button fingerprint scanner (already found in Apple’s last three smartphones) and the option of getting one in a weird, mucky copper colour. All this for an asking price of £319 – that’s eighty nicker more than the iPad Mini 2!
So why bother, Apple? Surely, with its smartphones already creeping well over the 5-inch mark now (heralded by the unprecedented iPhone 6 Plus), Apple knows that the Mini tablet is more or less redundant – we can now get the big-screen experience on a pocket device, with all the same features and more besides.
Add to that the fact that the iPad Air tablet range is clearly where Apple’s heart lies, and you have to wonder why Apple even bothered to release such an unremarkable slate. Was it just a complete lack of communication from within Apple’s (probably very pristine) walls? Did the iPad Mini division get halfway through the iPad MIni 3, then get a memo all about the iPhone 6 Plus and basically throw a sh*t fit?
That said, Apple’s marketing department are no slouches. Heck, anyone who can pull off the almighty feat of getting consumers to buy into the ‘cult of Cupertino’ for however many years must know their stuff. Converts continue to steadfastly defend the brand whilst continually paying over the odds for nicely-designed-yet-technologically-inferior products, deserves a doff of our cap.
Cue waves of i-zealots unleashing their defensive tirades – you know where the comments section is, folks.
Perhaps the launch of this lacklustre tab was part of the company’s strategy after all. Think about it – in releasing a further iteration of a much-loved yet creakingly outmoded tablet, Apple can wring the last drops of brand loyalty from its devotees looking to upgrade but avoid the outlay required to join the good ship iPad Air 2. Minimal effort, maximum profit.
Meanwhile, Apple also has an excuse to drop the iPad Mini 2’s price, which should tempt a fair few umm-ers to finally jump on the tablet bandwagon, and into Apple’s ecosystem.
Plus, it also sees Camp Cupertino maintaining a presence in the mid-sized tablet category, something flooding with cheaper budget efforts while the iPad Mini offers a touch of class.
That’s one theory at least, but the intuitive amongst you will likely put paid to it by bringing up the reasonable assumption that Apple isn’t really bothered about the mid-sized tablet market at all. Hark back to 2010 and one Mr Jobs, who was quoted referring to 7-inch tablets as ‘tweeners’ – too big to compete with smartphones and too small to provide a credible rival to the iPad.
Add to this the fact that the iPhone 6 Plus is as huge as other flagship phones like the LG G3 and Sony Xperia Z range and not too far off a phablet, and it isn’t that much of bold statement to suppose that Apple doesn’t actually see 7-inch tabs as competition at all.
The upshot? Guide consumers to its full-size slate or upscaled smartphone offerings with a nice bit of planned obsolescence.
(Not So) Happy Gap
Despite Apple’s apparent abandoning of the trusty 7-incher, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the mid-sized tablet market will soon be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Sure, it’d be churlish to disregard Cupertino’s influence on tech trends of the day – the average man in the street could be forgiven for thinking that it was Apple that invented the smartphone after all. However, given the feature gap between the first and most recent iterations of the device that arguably popularised mid-sized slates, coupled with rumours of a 12.9-inch iPad Pro on the horizon, it could be said that Apple is laying its cards on the table(t) and that other manufacturers could follow suit.
Indeed, Google’s next Nexus Smartphone takes the form of a 6-inch behemoth and the much-rumoured Nexus 10 replacement never materialised, usurped by a HTC produced 9-inch Nexus tablet slated for release next month. So perhaps Apple’s influence is being felt already?
What the future holds for the humble 7-inch tablet remains to be seen, but with them ‘getting it from both ends’ as it were – larger smartphones from the bottom and expansive tablets from the top – we can see a situation in which they become niche devices, the sole preserve of mid-table manufacturers, available only from the e-stores of questionable online retailers and from bargain stores with a suffix of ‘world’ in their names. If you’re partial to a little ‘un, it might be worth stocking up now…