Today, Apple CEO Tim Cook is expected to show the world the iPad’s mini me, following (as ever) months of hypothesising and (for once) the competition: Amazon and Google have already achieved success in the tiny tablet market with their Kindle Fire and Nexus 7 devices.
The Apple keynote will take place at 10 am PST in San José, California. “We have a little more to show you,” read the invitations, sent one week ago, seemingly substantiating the speculation that has been ricocheting across the web at least since February, when “the first credible rumour” of a mini iPad came from the Wall Street Journal. Taking place at the California Theatre, the unveiling event will likely be modest relative to Microsoft’s “no-expenses-spared” launch of its Surface tablet in New York, scheduled for Thursday, October 25.
Indeed, the fact that Apple should be biting into the bit-sized tablet market at all is a show of modesty. A mere two years ago (an eternity in iTime), on October 18, 2010, Steve Jobs famously asserted that the seven-inch tablets of Apple’s competitors were “going to be DOA, dead on arrival.” He labeled them “tweeners;” in between the size of the smartphone and the iPad, and thus unfit to compete with either.
“One naturally thinks that a seven-inch screen would offer 70% of the benefits of a 10-inch screen,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. The screen measurements are diagonal, so that a seven-inch screen is only 45% as large as iPad's 10-inch screen. You heard me right; just 45% as large,” he continued. “It is meaningless, unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one quarter of the present size.”
He went on: “This size isn't sufficient to create great tablet apps in our opinion.”
Has demand for Amazon and Google’s seven-inch tablets, the Kindle Fire (which has sold 5 million over the past year) and the Nexus 7 (which has sold 1 million in the past quarter) proven the oracle wrong? Or does their success merely signal consumers’ desire for similar devices to the iPad at a lower price-point (they are both priced under $200, undercutting the iPad 2 by half)? Either way, the time has come for Apple, still the dominant player in the tablet market, to enter the ring.
What does this mean for content-creators who are responding to rising mobile news consumption (and ad spend) by pinch-and-zooming in on the tablet experience?
1. More tablet owners = more tablet readers
While Apple has remained predictably quiet on the pricing front, the mini iPad is expected to be the least expensive iPad yet, with a price-point “somewhere between the $199 Nexus 7 and $399 iPad 2.” This means that younger and/or less solvent Apple aficionados who have been patiently waiting for the price to drop before becoming tablet-owners (I know several) might take the plunge this holiday season. This will allow news oranisations to reach a wider range of readers with their tablet products.
2. Less mini = less sandpaper required
The Kindle Fire, Nexuz 7 and Barnes & Noble Nook all have screens measuring 7.0 inches. The iPad mini’s screen is predicted to measure 7.85 inches. This may seem marginal, but actually represents nearly 40 percent more space, as a Twitter user called Trojankitten has pointed out. This could be good news for app designers. For example, it allows enough room to comfortably present apps using the "carousel" prototype, which 50 percent of the tablet readers observed in Poynter’s recent eye-track survey preferred over the "traditional" (35 percent) or "flipboard" (15 percent) app designs. It could also be good for revenue (more space = more space for ads). Rumour has it that the display will be lower quality than that of the iPad2, with a screen resolution that is half that of the current iPad. While this would be a shame for image quality, it would also mean that "developers wouldn't have to rewrite apps to size correctly on the tablet," reports the Verge.
3. One-handed reading = different ball game
The eye-track survey further found that there were two distinct groups of tablet news readers: the highly focused or “intimate” ones, who were in nearly-constant physical contact with their devices, “touching, tapping, pinching and swiping to adjust their view,” and those looking to relax into their reading, who “carefully arranged a screen of text before physically detaching as they sat back to read.” The majority of the people studied fell into the first group (61 percent). This is unsurprising, given that the average time a person spent on the first article selected was a minute and a half (93 seconds).
Consider this in light of the fact that the new iPad is expected to be a lighter device: the Verge's rumour round-up has calld it a “safe assumption” that the new iPad will be “a thin, light, and inexpensive reading device for those who find the current model too heavy for one-handed use.” This could change the way readers interact with a story, either by making them more physically engaged, or by allowing them to settle into a deeper state of physical comfort that could be conducive to longer articles. I put my money on the second group.
Tablets are often framed as the eventual usurpers of paper’s crown as the rulers of the lean-back experience, but there is a limit to how relaxed you can get with both elbows up; on the full-sized iPad, my hunch is that only a quite serious shot-put practitioner would feel comfortable reading an entire New Yorker feature one-handed.
The mini iPad, then, could be big news for long-form-loving occasional golfers, croquet-dabblers, and ping pong dilettantes everywhere (and the news organisations they adore).