Why It Should Be an iPod HD, Not an iPad Mini
With Google's new Nexus 7 on the scene and a second-gen Kindle Fire supposedly in the works, the pressure's on for Apple to deliver a miniature tablet. It's a market Cupertino certainly should attack, but presenting a 7-inch device as the crown jewel of the iPod line may put the item in a better position than calling it a junior version of the iPad.
Ever since the Amazon Kindle Fire came out late last year, I've been wondering when Apple would release a big iPod -- not a small iPad "mini," but a larger iPod sibling. On the surface, it's all just a game of semantics. What does an iPod "HD" have that an iPad "mini" does not? Or vice versa?
Not much, of course, just marketing and perception, which happen to be two areas where Apple excels.
An iPod HD would let Apple release a small-form tablet device without specifically having to fracture the perceptions of what a full-size tablet is and does. Instead of expecting a faster processor or better screen or superior ability to do everything, an iPod HD could drive focus to what the iPod is great at -- video and games. In fact, it would make games even better by finding a sweet spot between portability and the sometimes too-large (and spendy) iPad.
Better yet, it could attack the Kindle Fire where the Fire is strongest -- ebook reading perfection. The size of the Kindle Fire is fantastic for pleasure reading, plus it's great for media consumption. The widescreen works well with movies, and it's more packable than an iPad.
So really, an iPod-named tablet with a 7- to 8-inch screen size would naturally be a hit for someone gravitating toward a media consumption device rather than a do-it-all tablet. With a presumably lower price point, Apple would also create the next iteration of stepping-stone gifts for kids. For parents, coughing up US$200 to $250 for is simply a lot more survivable than shelling out $400-plus for an iPad.
With a smaller screen, buying a smaller tablet is psychologically more palatable to parents. They can satisfy their children's desire to touch and swipe by finding a nice middle ground between the iPod touch and the iPad. In this respect, it's not so much about price as it is about enabling kids to experience the technology (and apps) without spoiling them too much. (Crazy, I know, but we're talking about a market driven by gadget-oriented parents here, not parents who necessarily put a premium on fresh air, large motor skills, and in-person social interaction.)
Enter the Google Nexus 7
The entrance of Google's small-form Nexus 7 tablet is finally throwing some real fuel into the tablet market. It basically presents a new option for people who just want something small, light and meant mostly for consumption -- not necessarily to edit their own home movies or read spreadsheets and log into high-powered enterprise dashboards for working on the go.
And while Amazon and Barnes & Noble can be pigeonholed as conduits for ebook sales from their creators, Google is a different animal altogether. Sure, Google has its own ecosystem, but the threat of growing the Google ecosystem looms far larger than the threat of Amazon, for example. All of which means that Apple, instead of seeing an opportunity for a new product, actually needs an answer to a growing new product segment.
USA Today's Edward Baig hit the consumer nail on the head at the end of his Google Nexus 7 review. Yet he still seems to be thinking in terms of July, in terms of right-this-minute, when he writes, "If you have the extra money, I'd still choose the iPad. But if you're looking for a solid smaller-screen tablet on a budget, the Nexus 7 is now the one to beat."
Baig is not wrong, but I'm looking ahead to September, looking ahead to this year's holiday selling season and what I see going on with electronic media consumption. As long as the economy continues to improve, even just slightly, tech-oriented consumers will be seriously buying tablets of all sizes for themselves and their households. iPad owners know their iPads aren't perfect for everything. In fact, if there's one thing all iPads are terrible at, it's sharing. What's worse than an iPad with a dead battery? An iPad that someone else in the household has dibs on and is using with no signs of letting up.
Think about a dad here. He's got an iPad with corporate access to email, kid games, movies, browsing history sitting there, etc. ... and two kids. Buying two iPads? That's quite a stretch. Getting two kids to share a single iPad? Ouch. Buying two iPad minis at the cost of a single iPad? Suddenly this seems like a doable possibility. Not only will it fix his problem -- regaining control of his iPad -- it'll make him Dad of the Year around the holiday season.
Plus, considering the same household scenario, a mother might feel as if the iPad is too much for her needs -- ebooks, email, Web browsing, scheduling -- whereas a small-size tablet fits the right spot for cost, portability, and need.
But breaking out of the Apple ecosystem of apps and iCloud and iPhones and into Android just to get a right size and priced tablet? There's a natural hesitation there for people who enjoy their Apple products. Something that could have been an easy solution would now become something a dad needs to pay attention to -- getting the accounts set up, etc. Still, if Apple lets these smaller Android units get a foot in the door, it's only a matter of time before the door widens.
No Way Around It: Apple Must Deliver This Fall
As I see it, the time is right for Apple to break out a 7- to 8-inch iPad or iPod device this fall, both because consumers are ready for it and because Apple can hamstring the competition with a better option.
Incidentally, as I write this, rumors have been heating up about possible screen components getting ready from suppliers in Asia. But those rumors don't particularly excite me. What I like about this Fall is the rise in pressure that may force Apple to act, along with what I see as true opportunity in how the use of tablet devices seems to be evolving. The only real question in my mind is whether Apple will buck the iPad name in favor of creating a true tweener device a la the iPod.