The iPad mini is no threat to budget Android tablets

October 24, 2012
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So it has finally arrived. The never ending speculation, the ceaselessly grinding rumor mill, the crushing anticipation has resulted in the iPad mini. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling distinctly underwhelmed. Of course, no visitor to Android Authority is going to be all that shocked to find a lack of excitement about Apple’s latest release, but seriously, look at those specs.

Ah, the last refuge of an Android scoundrel, I can hear all you Apple fans shouting already that no one cares about specs except “Fandroids”. Of course, you’ll argue that people only care about how great the device looks and how it feels to use and I’ll point out that those things are, at the very least, heavily influenced by the quality of the hardware.

My colleague Mike has already done a good job of discussing the iPad mini vs the Nexus 7 in terms of hardware so I won’t go back over it. For me, he didn’t mention the most important difference until the final section. The real reason that the iPad mini won’t be supplanting every small form Android tablet in sight and the reason that it’s no real threat to budget Android tablets – is the price.

Apple does not do “budget”

Whether you love or hate Apple this is one indisputable truth about the company. The Apple approach and design philosophy is all about premium products. Those profit margins are jealously guarded and it’s a strategy that has made Apple the richest company in tech. As a budget proposition the iPad mini is not capable of competing with the Kindle Fire or the Nexus 7.

The iPad mini starts at $329 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version.

The basic Kindle Fire is $159, even the 16GB Kindle Fire HD is only $199.

The Nexus 7 starts at $199.

If you look at the other versions of the iPad mini the prices get even more ridiculous. Add $100 for 32GB or $200 for 64GB and another $130 on top if you want cellular with your Wi-Fi. A 64GB iPad mini with LTE support would cost you $659.

I’m not saying there is no market for the iPad mini. Apple fans are devout and some people who felt the latest iPad was a stretch for their finances might find the bottom line iPad mini hits a sweet spot for them. What I am saying is that the iPad mini cannot be described as a “budget tablet”.

People with limited means are not going to see the extra $130 of value in an iPad mini compared to a Nexus 7. People feeling the pressure of the financial meltdown, who want to join in the tablet frenzy and just want a device for content consumption, are not going to pay an extra $170 to get an iPad mini over a Kindle Fire.

You can buy two Kindle Fire tablets and still have change for the same price as an iPad mini.

U-turn for Apple

I think we all knew I was never going to get through this article without quoting Steve Jobs:

“the current crop of seven-inch tablets are going to be DOA–dead on arrival. Their manufacturers will learn the painful lesson that their tablets are too small and increase the size next year, thereby abandoning both customers and developers who jumped on the seven-inch bandwagon with an orphaned product. Sounds like lots of fun ahead.”

That was almost exactly two years ago.

What has changed since then? Well, some Android manufacturers made some tablets that sold pretty well. Amazon shifted an estimated 5 to 6 million Kindle Fire tablets and its new range signals a clear belief in the market. Google is thought to have sold around 1 million Nexus 7 tablets so far. I can hear the Apple fans again. The company announced, in its usual self-congratulatory opening, that it has shifted 100 million iPads. These 7-inch Android tablets are small potatoes by comparison, but, of course, that won’t stop Apple from trying to compete with them.

Defensive not offensive

You have to wonder if this signals an important turning point for Apple. The company which is at pains to paint itself as an innovator, a creator of new markets and devices, is now jumping on the smaller tablet form factor bandwagon with a product which offers nothing new or cutting edge. The tech is 2011. The release is a reaction to other movers in the market. The price is not competitive.

The iPad mini looks like a defensive move rather than an offensive one. The fact that Apple is not willing to concede that it cannot compete at the budget end of the market is tiresome. Apple’s Phil Schiller conducted a big comparison with the Nexus 7 and argued that:

“The iPad is far and away the most successful product in its category. The most affordable product we’ve made so far was $399 and people were choosing that over those devices, and now you can get a device that’s even more affordable at $329 in this great new form, and I think a lot of customers are going to be very excited about that,” he even went on to say, “Others have tried to make tablets smaller than the iPad and they’ve failed miserably. These are not great experiences.”

I have to dispute the assertion that other manufacturers have “failed miserably”. I’m pretty sure Amazon and Google would dispute it too. I’ll concede that a lot of customers will be excited about the iPad mini, but are they customers who would have bought a Nexus 7 or a Kindle Fire if the iPad mini hadn’t come out?

I also have to point out that if you’re going to charge over 100 bucks more than your competitors, then your device damn well should be offering a better experience, otherwise just what is it you are expecting people to pay for? It’s a question that often raises its head when it comes to Apple devices. Fans can talk about magic, but who can see it in the lackluster iPad mini?

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