[Op-Ed] How the iPad mini dilutes Apple’s brand

iPad mini (front and rear)

I heard a report on the local news Friday morning about how there weren’t the same long lines for the iPad mini (which launched on November 2nd) as there were for the iPhone 5 and iPad 3, and it got me thinking.  With legions of Apple fans around the world, why would the iPad mini go on sale with less fanfare than other devices from months or years past?  Is there a crack in the facade of a company that can seemingly do no wrong when it comes to the launch of a new product?  Let’s dig deeper and see if there is evidence of what I believe to be true:  by making the iPad mini, Apple has diluted their own brand and potentially made a serious business blunder.


Long, long ago in 2010, on an earnings call for Apple, Steve Jobs had some (now very famous) comments on how he felt about the 7 inch tablet market.  An excerpt from this call is below:

“Well, one could increase the resolution of the display to make up for some of the difference. 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. Apple’s done extensive user-testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff. There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen before users cannot reliably tap, flick, or pinch them. This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps.
Third, every tablet user is also a smartphone user. No tablet can compete with the mobility of a smartphone, its ease of fitting into your pocket or purse, its unobtrusiveness when used in a crowd. Given that all tablet users will already have a smartphone in their pockets, giving up precious display area to fit a tablet in our pockets is clearly the wrong trade-off. The 7-inch tablets are tweeners, too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with an iPad.
These are among the reasons we think the current crop of 7-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 7-inch bandwagon with an orphan product. Sounds like lots of fun ahead.”

These comments have been picked apart ad nauseum, but the salient point is this – at the time, Jobs did not envision his company making a smaller iPad product because he felt that they were ahead of the curve, and other OEMs would be forced to compete on Apple’s terms.  Until, lo and behold, Apple has in fact now made a 7 inch product – they now are competing on someone else’s terms.  Tim Cook, Apple’s current CEO, begs to differ however:

“Let me be clear: we would not make one of the 7-inch tablets,” Cook said in response to a question about why the company seemingly changed its mind. “We don’t think they’re good products, and we would never make one. […] One reason is size—the difference in just the real-estate size in 7.9-inches versus 7-inches is 35 percent. When you look at the usable area, it’s much greater than that: it’s from 50 to 67 percent.”

Right to Left – Kindle Fire HD, Nexus 7

Let’s not do as Cook did and split hairs:  Apple made a 7 inch tablet to compete with the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7.  While Asus recently announced that they are selling almost 1 million Nexus 7 devices a month, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster is predicting between 1 and 1.5 million iPad mini’s will be sold on launch weekend.  However, this figure is sharply down compared to 3 million iPad 3’s sold during its launch weekend.  Some might say that the iPad mini lines are shorter due to internet pre-sales; long lines for iPhone 5s sold within the last 3 months (which were also available for pre-sale) would beg to differ.  Some consumers might be holding out for the 4G enabled version slated for sale later in November.  Could it instead be as some critics have said that people are better served if they want an iPad mini to wait for the improvements that will likely be coming in an iPad mini 2 next year?

The business world in general was concerned after the iPad mini announcement, and Apple’s stock price has been dropping ever since, now hovering around $580 a share (as of this weekend), down close to 18% from its previous record high of over $700 per share.  Pricing is a factor here, and the iPad mini’s $329 starting point is well above those of Android competitors.  Screen and processor specs are also lower end, compared to current iPad tech, and also lower than those of Android competitors.  In addition, there was a recent announcement of a management shake up at high levels within Apple (see more details here); all of these things paint a clear picture to me:  Apple is becoming aware that they can no longer do business as they have for so many years and expect consumers to continue to support them.

The Apple brand has been as much about innovation and forward thinking as it has been the “cool” factor of their products.  The last truly innovative product released by Apple was the original iPad, more than 2 years ago.  Apple has been all but forced into moving into the 7 inch tablet space by the success of their competitors.  And what they did was release a product that isn’t as good one of their own, similar products released earlier in the same year (iPad 3) and is priced in such a way that it doesn’t really give anyone who’s not already a loyal Apple fanboy a compelling reason to rush out and get one.

By not innovating and moving first to dominate this smaller tablet space, they have allowed Google (and their partners) as well as Amazon to take money out of their pockets.  Without innovation – all you’re left with is cool.  And cool comes with a hefty price tag these days.

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2 thoughts on “[Op-Ed] How the iPad mini dilutes Apple’s brand

  1. My dad tried to post the but the system was having issues. Here is his response:

    I disagree that the ipad mini dilutes the apple brand. The Steve Jobs quote is just marketing nonsense. Are we really expected to believe that there's one, and only one, sized tablet that's any good and that apple found it and everyone else can go home now, bend down on their knees and praise apple for solving that problem? I love my 7″ android tablet and prefer it in a lot of ways to my ipad. I'm very happy that the management at apple saw the usefulness of a smaller tablet and added it to their product line. For people like me who have a lot invested in the apple infrastructure due to the many years I've been using their products, it's always more convenient, from a compatibility standpoint, to have an apple version of a particular device available. But in this case, the product itself isn't impressive. Either the current version should have had a much lower price tag or they should have had a high quality version with a retina display and A6 inside. This would have been the kind of quality that is expected from apple. It was strange that on the same day they released the ipad mini, they actually released the ipad 3.5 and the new imacs which were two much more apple-like products with impressive specs and features. The ipad mini, by comparison, seems like an “also ran.” If I were buying a small pad today, I'd buy the 32 gig nexus 7 because it seems to be a better deal all the way around. But, I'll be looking forward to seeing the ipad mini 2. I have a feeling that it will be more like what I was expecting out of the ipad mini 1. They should have gotten it right the first time, though.

    Like

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