The perfectly imperfect iPad mini

Apple’s iPad mini is cute, capable and it’s compatible with over 275,000 apps designed for iPad. There is plenty to like about the iPad mini, which is why I gave it a rating of 8/10 in my iPad mini review. It’s going to sell millions and I still stand by my opinion that it will be the fastest selling iPad of all time. The more time I spent with iPad mini, or more notably the time spent with iPad 4, the more I lament the path chosen by Apple. It’s a slow road, one that starts with an older processor, a passable screen and exterior hardware that mirrors the iPod touch. Apple calls it ‘every inch an iPad’, which would be correct if that iPad were the iPad 2. Apple didn’t build this iPad mini for everyone. It’s a very good tablet, but not Apple’s best, a distinction currently held by the iPad 4. They built it for first time tablet owners, those willing to make compromises for portability and ultimately those looking for a cheaper iPad.

iPad mini

Apple’s never been in the business of making ‘cheap’ products. It’s not in their DNA, which is why the iPad mini is a somewhat confusing little bastard. Apple created the iPad mini to attract buyers who might not be willing to spend $500 plus on a tablet and for those considering alternative products. The iPad mini certainly isn’t cheap by any stretch. It also accomplishes their goal of making a lower cost iPad, one that could compete with the Kindle Fire HD and the Nexus 7. Apple’s iPad mini has the distinct benefit of standing on the shoulders of previous iPads, which helped foster a robust App Store catalog of over 275,000 apps. That alone makes it worth the added expenditure over those products and helps to support that premium pricing. Apple knows this isn’t their best, but it’s good enough for  now. It borrows the processor from the iPad 2, the display from the iPhone 3GS and the hardware looks and feels like the iPod touch. Apple’s engineering prowess, coupled with years of making iOS devices, helps them to deliver a beautiful, thin and light tablet. Set on the backdrop of iOS 6, it’s hard to imagine a first-time tablet buyer not being pleased with this product. The display looks great when not compared to retina and the processor is more than capable.

There has been conjecture that a retina display iPad mini simply wasn’t feasible due to cost and engineering. Those within Apple’s executive circle are likely the only ones who know for sure.

Does anyone want to wager that within a year we see Tim Cook on stage with a retina display iPad mini priced at the very same price point?

Apple could have very well sold this 1st generation iPad mini for $250 or less. If Amazon and Google can hit those numbers with a smaller volume of sales, shouldn’t Apple’s scale allow for a more aggressive price point? The fact of the matter is that they don’t have to accept lower profit margins to be competitive with the likes of the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD. I’d argue that the $329 price tag is setting up for the second generation, retina-display iPad mini.  This leaves them room for a more aggressive pricing move downward when the iPad mini 2 is released. Racing to the bottom at this point would have been too early and would have provided for an untenable situation when trying to price the new iPad mini (second generation). As with previous iPads and iPhones, people now have an expectation that the new iPad mini will cost $329. Don’t be surprised if customers have these options heading into the holidays in 2013.

  • iPad mini 2 with retina $329
  • iPad mini $249

I don’t pretend to know all of the challenges involved in putting a retina display on a smaller iPad mini. Engineering, cost and maintaining compatibility with existing iPad apps are all very real obstacles. If the competition from Amazon and Google was of concern, perhaps they had no choice but to release the iPad mini now and in it’s current form. As we’ve seen with the iPad 3 and now iPad 4, this does add a bit of heft to the device which directly impacts the thinness of the iPad mini, one of it’s main selling features. Is the lack of a retina display affecting sales? Maybe, but those customers either own a 2012 iPad or will decide the added expenditure of $170 is money well spent. If they lose an iPad mini customer, they gain an iPad 4 customer, something they’d sign up for all day. Still this is a very small demographic of existing customers and they have options with the full sized iPad. With it’s current feature set, the iPad mini is more than capable of thrashing the competition. This is a market where very good is good enough, where they will see plenty of new customers entering the Apple ecosystem.  It also provides with the all important next move, delivering their best.

  • Hondamaker

    Very nice piece. I pretty much agree with everything you said.

    • http://christophermeinck.com Christopher Meinck

      Thanks Jack, both for your comment and for reading the article. Appreciate it.

  • Eric Weiner

    I am doubtful a mini with a retina will arrive without numerous compromises. Apple is working on flexible/fabric displays and this is where the screen resolution, weight and battery life will come together.

    Sure would like to be proven wrong…but I don’t see retina at this size anytime soon.

    • TurtleGerald

      The main problem, as I see it, for a retina iPad mini is the fact that packing the same number of pixels as the iPad “4″ onto the screen would be very difficult. That being the case, developers would have yet another screen resolution to cater for in their apps. A universal app already has to cater for three different screen resolutions in the iPhone / iPod touch line and two in the iPad line – adding a third would be a real pain. It would also effectively slash the number of quality compatible apps available for the iPad mini.

  • http://www.igeeksblog.com/ Jignesh Padhiyar

    Apple’s never been in the business of making ‘cheap’ products. It’s not in their DNA, which is why the iPad mini is a somewhat confusing. Now, that pretty much sums up what the whole thing is. And the contention about $329 setting the stage for iPad Mini 2 is brilliant.

  • TurtleGerald

    What’s so confusing about the iPad mini? Yes, by Apple’s standards it’s a “budget” offering. Inevitably, therefore, it doesn’t offer as much as the iPad “4″. Why is this a problem, though? I’m writing this on a Mac mini – Apple’s “budget” computer offering. It’s not super cheap and it isn’t as well-specced as even the cheapest iMac, but why – again – is this a problem? In it’s own right it’s a great computer and it is still far better built and better designed than any PC on the market. Rather the same can be said of the iPad mini.

    Apple is different to any other electronics manufacturer in the way that it designs, builds and prices its products – to compare is somewhat futile.