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The iPad Mini: Apple’s Big Mistake?

By Colin Ryan

Industry News

Why the iPad Mini is a mistake for Apple's brand identity

image credit: rollingstone.com

Yesterday, Apple Shocked the world with their announcement of the iPad Mini.

Wait. No they didn’t. Rumors of a smaller iPad have been swirling for months. Let’s try that again.

Yesterday, Apple once again redefined mobile devices with their announcement of the iPad Mini.

Wait. No they didn’t. Except for another Apple tablet—two if you count the fourth-generation iPad, which I don’t—yesterday’s event doesn’t add anything new to the market.

So what does the iPad Mini actually mean for Apple and the device market at large? Not much, really—and while that wouldn’t be a big deal for most companies, it’s a problem for Apple, whose reputation is built on innovation.

Competition, within and without

Apple is entering a crowded category with its 7.9-inch tablet, pitting the Mini against established product lines like Google’s Nexus 7, Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD, Barnes & Noble’s Nook HD, and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 2. All of them have the Mini beat in terms of price, offering the same 16GB of storage (and, in the Note’s case, an actual phone) for up to $80 less than the $329 price tag of the Mini’s base model.

Granted, the Mini tops these tablets in a few key categories, with a rear-facing camera, higher screen resolution, lighter curb weight, etc. But these miss the whole point of the 7-inch tablet class: a mix of features and affordability.

This begs the question: if the Mini isn’t competing with other 7-inch tablets, what is it competing with? The answer is other Apple products. The new full-size iPad satisfies the desire for a premium tablet experience, while the new generation of iPod Touch (itself overpriced at $299) offers economy and portability. The iPad Mini seems poised to cannibalize both products’ market share without attracting a significant new demographic or customer base.

Will people buy the iPad Mini? Of course. After all, it’s an Apple product. But these sales will mask a brand identity crisis that, if unchecked, could spell disaster. Remember when we were buying every BlackBerry RIM threw at us? How well are they doing these days?

A new challenger (sort of)

If the iPad Mini unveiling undermines Apple’s image as an innovation engine, perhaps it’s time for someone else to take the mantle—and believe it or not, Microsoft might just be the brand for the job.

For starters, Microsoft is taking a major gamble on Windows 8, which redesigns the tried-and-true Windows OS from the ground up, largely doing away with the desktop in favor of an interface tailored to touch devices.

While some have complained that Windows 8 has a steep learning curve, this seems only natural. After all, if innovation is all about approaching a task in a new way, then adopting that innovation will involve shedding old expectations and habits, which takes time.

Microsoft has also entered the tablet market with Surface. Early reviews of the device have been mixed, with many criticizing Surface for its weight, screen resolution, and lack of apps. But it’s worth noting that Surface is the first tablet Microsoft has ever built, and it will probably be a while before the product line finds its footing.

Still, it’s Surface’s intent that makes it innovative. Microsoft aims to change the way we think about productivity and touch by creating devices not just for consumption, like the iPad, but for creation.

Surface may have its flaws, but it also has lots of powerful features the iPad doesn’t have: expandable memory, ports for USB and HD video out, high definition front and rear cameras, and an operating system with Microsoft Office and multitasking capabilities. All of these features point to Surface’s potential to transform the tablet from something pretty, a novelty/luxury device, into something as versatile and indispensable as the laptop.

Make no mistake, Microsoft has a long way to go, and they’ll have plenty of opportunities to screw it up along the way. But they’ll also have opportunities to get it right—and if I were Tim Cook, I’d be watching closely.

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