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iPad Mini May Be Spoiling for a School Fight

By Rachelle Dragani MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Oct 22, 2012 4:29 PM PT

Apple fans are preparing for Tuesday's press event, when the company is expected to launch a smaller version of the iPad tablet and possibly announce refreshes to its other computer lines or even a new push to capture the education market.

iPad Mini May Be Spoiling for a School Fight

The company sent out invitations that teased it had "a little more" to present. An iPad mini would compete with Google's Nexus 7 and Amazon's Kindle Fire as smaller, more affordable tablet options.

The 7.85-inch tablet is expected to be a scaled-down version of the current iPad without any radical hardware or software updates. Supply-chain rumors claim there could be as many as 16 versions of the smaller iPad, ranging from 8GB to 64GB in storage, coming in black or white and with either WiFi or 3G connectivity.

"The iPad mini is pretty close to a sure thing," Ezra Gottheil, senior analyst for computing practice at Technology Business Research, told MacNewsWorld. "That's been in the works for a while, and they want to get it out there into that holiday market."

One of the only things yet unknown about the device is its price. Amazon and Google offer their 7-inch tablets for $199, although it's unlikely Apple will dip so low to compete.

"The price has to be good, but not great," said Gottheil. "They can still demand somewhat of a premium."

Apple did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

Mac Makeover

If Apple does launch a smaller iPad Tuesday, it will remain to be seen how the tinier version fits into the rest of its lineup. It's possible the more affordable option could cannibalize sales of the larger iPad, a problem the larger PC market is seeing now that tablets and smartphones are becoming popular consumer electronics.

Apple doesn't only rely on Mac computers as its primary driver of sales, and the iPad is the tablet leader that's contributing much of the cannibalizing, so the company hasn't had to worry much about slipping PC sales numbers, Gottheil said.

However, it has been more than a year since the iMac got a makeover, and many rumors hold that a refreshed iMac or Mac mini update will also be announced Tuesday. An updated iMac would likely be thinner, have more storage options and include an updated (although not retina) display, Gottheil said.

"iMac sales are very stale," he told MacNewsWorld. "They really need to get them refreshed, and the closer you can do that to the holiday season the better. A new iMac or Mac mini won't be an earth-shaker, but it will be a worthwhile product and this would be a good chance for Apple to get them out there."

Just getting it out there could be the company's biggest challenge, though. With a high-profile product launch so recently behind them and the busy holiday season quickly approaching, Apple needs to make sure it can live up to demand with whatever product it announces Tuesday, said Gottheil.

"I'm sensing Apple might have problems on the supply side with these and with the iPad mini, and have trouble meeting demand. If they can't guarantee that the product won't be ready by Christmas, it's no good. They've got to be able to give complete assurance or they're really going to get hurt," he warned.

Education Emphasis?

Tuesday's announcement might also include a larger push from Apple to penetrate further into the educational market. The company has taken previous opportunities at product launches and conference calls to boast about the iPad's benefits inside the classroom, and has already sold more than 1 million iPads to educational institutions. If Apple has secured an e-publishing deal or a content licensing agreement with a major educational provider, that could be announced during Tuesday's event, said Gottheil.

Even if the smaller version might not be a better learning tool, the shrunken price tag does make it an attractive fit for more schools, even though it's going up against a tough competitor in Amazon's Kindle Fire, said John Feland, CEO and founder of Argus Insights.

"The battle for the classroom is going to be a rough one," Feland told MacNewsWorld. "Higher education has already signaled the iPad to be the tablet of choice, but K-12 is still up for grabs. Amazon's head start in K-12 is built on three pillars: price, content, and price. Apple's efforts to become the publisher of choice for education markets has been slow in taking off given the existing relationships between content providers, publishers, and school communities."

Apple can help edge its way into even more classrooms by announcing an affordable product on Tuesday, said Feland. More importantly, though, it has to make inroads with major education publishers and licensing deals to win educators over with better content.

However, while Apple and Amazon might be gaining loyal customers within institutions, their students will continue to make their own decisions once they're outside of the classroom walls, said Feland.

"Will putting a Kindle or an iPad into the hands of students lock them into these brands for life?" he asked. "Not likely, as evidenced by Wintel's domination of the post-education market despite Apple's leadership for decades."

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