Visions of 7-Inch iPads Dancing in Apple Fans' Heads
Holiday sales for Apple could see a boost if the iPad mini is announced next week as the rumor mill has predicted. A smaller iPad with a 7-inch form factor would compete with similar tablets from Samsung and Amazon. Such a device would be more modest in its processing and connectivity than its larger sibling.
10/03/12 5:00 AM PT
The next big product launch from Apple could be a smaller, sleeker iPad that would take on Samsung's Nexus 7 and Amazon's Kindle Fire, creating a competitive upcoming holiday season in the mobile market.
The latest rumors about a 7-inch tablet, the so-called iPad mini, portray a thin device similar in shape and design to an iPad, but with slightly less power and online connectivity capabilities. A smaller iPad might hit shelves as early as this month, according to a report from Fortune that says media invites are set to go out for an October 10 press event.
With the 7-inch form factor, consumers aren't looking for a complex device, said John Feland, CEO and founder of Argus Insights, but rather an on-the-go tablet they can use to read e-books and maybe check e-mail with a Wi-Fi connection or watch a movie. They're also looking for an affordable product, he noted. Customers turning toward a Kindle Fire don't necessarily favor the operating system over Apple's, but would rather spend US$200 than the steeper $500 starter price for an iPad.
With Apple's newly revamped iPod Touch running for $300, it seems unlikely that a 7-inch iPad would be near a price point to its toughest competitors, which could have a significant impact on Apple's potential sales for this device, said Feland.
"One of the only ways for an iPad mini to make a dent the momentum of the 7-inch tablets is to get closer on price, but that would mean devaluing the recently launched iPod touch," he told MacNewsWorld. "Remember the price drop/refund debacle of the iPhone 3G?"
iOS 6 Still
If a smaller iPad were to run on Apple's latest operating system, iOS 6, the company might have to answer more questions about its new platform, most notably about its overhauled maps app. Before the iPhone 5 launched, Apple dumped Google's map software in order to bring its navigation services in-house.
In the process, Apple-watchers got a sneak peek of leaked 3D images of its maps and wondered how the company would fare as it built new maps from the ground up. Turns out, not so hot. Users who upgraded found problems with its map system, including incorrect directions, trouble with voice-control directions and missing public transportation hubs irked customers used to Google Maps.
The company changed the language on its website this week describing the maps, erasing the word "powerful" to describe the app. Tim Cook even apologized this week to users in a candid open letter that would have been uncharacteristic of the company under Steve Jobs. It advises users to consider downloading alternative map apps, including ones from Google, while Apple works to develop a more thorough system.
Apple also took heat this week for problems with Verizon customers that incorrectly believed they were connected to Wi-Fi networks, and then faced the sky-high data charges when it turned out the phone hadn't connected. Apple released a fix to the problem today, but neither company has addressed the fees that customers might be forced to pay for the potential unfair overages.
Hitting Where It Hurts
Minor bugs are to be expected with any big software update, said Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst with IDC Mobile Devices Technology and Trends. And even through the complaints, it looks like users are still opting for the upgrade. One study released this week from Chitika Insights shows that about 60 percent of iPhone users have opted for the upgrade since it became available late last month, a relatively quick rate of refresh for mobile users.
But when potential issues mean an increased phone bill, Apple might be looking at more serious negative feedback, said Llamas.
"We're all waiting for a maps upgrade to come out, and Apple is probably working around the clock to make that happen," he told MacNewsWorld. "But when you're hitting customers in their wallet area, that hurts. And when you have a customer who is being unfairly charged possibly hundreds of dollars, it's one thing to acknowledge it, and it's a whole different problem to develop a solution, especially when there is money involved. There is always an alternative to Apple maps, but this might hurt more."
Still, the fact that customers are still opting for the iOS 6 upgrade and iPhone 5s are still a hot sell means that this time around Apple users were more excited about the hardware differences than they were the software, said Llamas.
"With the iPhone 4S, a lot of people didn't really think they needed the new hardware," said Llamas. "But this particular phone was all about the hardware upgrade. The software upgrades here are rather minimal, with no new experience such as Facetime, an App Store or Siri. There's no reason to be alarmed about Apple's operating system."