Today’s iPad mini event (yeah they announced a bunch of slick-looking, but far too pricey new Macs as well) for the most part lacked surprise due to Apple’s post-Steve Jobs complete lack of any kind of leak-control.
However despite the rampant rumor mill, there was a slightly unexpected, virtual raising of the middle finger by Tim Cook as he announced that a new 4th gen retina iPad (complete with faster A6x processor, lightning connector, faster WiFi and better camera) would be replacing the existing iPad 3, at the same price point, just a short seven months after iPad 3 owners purchased their devices.
Obviously a painful slap in the face to current third gen iPad owners like myself, one could argue that Apple already set this trend last month by launching new iPhone models only eleven months apart, but this bothers me much less than today’s announcement as many people (at least in the US) are on two-year cycles for new phones due to cellular contracts. Apple made no mention of what would happen to all of the iPad 3s that are currently sitting on store shelves. Will retailers be able to offer them at a reduced price to clear out inventory, or will unsuspecting customers be purchasing these, not knowing that on November 2nd they could purchase a newer model for the same price?!
As far as specs and pricing goes, it features a 7.9″ diagonal screen compared the full-sized iPad’s 9.7″ screen. It doesn’t have a Retina display, but instead features the same 1024 x 768 pixel display of the iPad 2, but with a slightly better pixels per inch due to the smaller screen (163 ppi vs. 132 ppi). In fact, it borrows a number of items from the iPad 2 including the same dual-core A5 processor and WiFi. However, the mini does best the iPad 2 in terms of photos and videos with a 5MP still camera and a 720p HD video camera, Siri compatibility and LTE support on its cellular version.
While this smaller form factor may be more attractive to some, especially those who frequently ride mass transportation, like to read in bed or just think the currentiPad it too bulky or heavy, the problem is that the price point just isn’t competitive enough for the existing 7″ tablet market. Pricing for the WiFi models of iPad mini are $329, $429 and $529 for the 16GB, 32GB and 64GB models respectively. If you want the option to use cellular data, that will cost you an additional $130 on any model (in addition to actual cellular data costs).
In comparison, a 16GB WiFi-only Nexus 7 (arguably the best 7″ Android currently on the market) only costs $249 and the 16GB Kindle Fire HD costs $214. During the presentation, Apple did do a nice job of showing off how much more content can be seen on the iPad mini’s screen at any given time compared to the Nexus 7, but they are still asking customers to pay an $80 premium for it. Don’t get me wrong, I think that hands-down, Apple has the best App ecosystem and that the mini will sell well, but just think of what Apple could do to the Android Market if they went head to head on price!
The bigger price dilemma really comes when you compare the iPad mini to Apple’s other products…
The new Retina iPod Touch starts at $299 for a 32GB model (just $30 less than an iPad mini which has half the storage) and a 16GB WiFi-only iPad 2 costs $399 (just $70 more than the iPad mini). So for $70 more than a mini, you can get a full-sized iPad with the same processing power, but with a worse camera and no Siri support. What Apple really should have done is to have debuted the new iPod Touches at $50 less, making them $250. This would have allowed them to deliver the entry-level iPad mini $299, putting it under the magic $300 mark,not only making it more competitively priced with the other 7″ tablets, but also leaving a larger $100 gap between the mini and full sized iPad. Apple has the following spec comparison chart for the iPad mini, iPad 2 and, poorly named, iPad with Retina display (aka iPad 4).
It seems that nowadays Apple in more concerned with maintaining big margins than delivering a truly devastating and decisive blow to their competition.
And in the process, they seem to have forgotten about the possible ramifications that these early upgrades and quirky pricing will have on their existing loyal fan-base.
One more thing worth mentioning is that Apple also quickly showed off the upcoming line of lightning adapters (which many iPhone 5 owners are also STILL waiting for) including the lightning to USB, lightning to HDMI, lightning to VGA and lightning to card reader. There was no mention of exactly when these will be available, but if the delay on lightning to 30-pin adapters are any indication, you can plan on at least a 2-3 week lead time once they are order-able. No prices were mentioned for these accessories either, but you can probably expect to fork down a minimum of $29 for EACH of these shiny new dongles. There are also pint-sized Smart Covers available for the iPad mini.
With the size of Apps getting bigger and bigger, especially Universal apps (which support the native resolution on both the iPhone and iPad), I have a hard time recommending any capacity less than 32 GB (no matter which iPad you choose), unless of course you are really trying to keep your cost down. If you do get a 16 GB, you may need to do some regular housecleaning to free up space.
Another option for saving money is to buy a refurbished unit from Apple, which comes with the same one-year warranty as a new device. Apple has just put a bunch of (now discontinued) refurbished third-gen iPads on sale for $379, $469 and $549 for the 16GB, 32GB and 64GB WiFi-only models respectively, which represents a savings of $120 to $150 off a brand-new model. While I don’t have any personal experience with a refurbished unit, buying one of these could be a nice way to get a fast, Retina and Siri supporting third gen iPad for much less than the price of a brand-new, similar capacity iPad 4 and slightly cheaper than a new iPad 2 (which does not support Retina or Siri).
The iPad mini and 4th gen Retina iPad will be available for pre-order starting Friday October 26th, or you can purchase the WiFi model at your local Apple Retail Store starting at 8:00 am on Friday November 2nd. The Wi-Fi + Cellular models will be available in mid-November.