By MG Siegler
"So why is iPad so phenomenally successful? Well it turns out
that there's a simple reason for this," Apple (
) CEO Tim Cook told an audience at the Apple event last week in San
The response drew some awkward laughs as it seemed almost like
the punchline of a misfired joke. But it wasn't a joke - Cook was
On the surface, such an answer seems to lack the depth to
provide insight into the tablet riddle. After all, there have been
many failed tablets before the iPad, and perhaps even more
the iPad. But it turns out that everyone may have been
over-thinking it. The iPad is successful because people love it.
Said another way, the iPad is successful because Apple was able to
create a brilliant product. It's not about having certain specs or
being a certain price. It's not about checking off boxes. It's
about the product as a whole. It's the culmination of intangibles
which only Apple seems to be able to nail time and time again.
There is no question, the iPad has been a phenomenon.
"But we're not taking our foot off the gas," Cook continued.
The Fourth Generation iPad
What Apple proceeded to show off was two products. The first,
was the iPad we're all well aware of by now. The 9.7-inch, 1.5
pound slab of glass and aluminum. Even though Apple had just
revealed the third-generation of this device (dubbed simply "the
*new* iPad") this past March, Apple really wasn't taking their foot
off the gas - it was time to show off the fourth generation of the
Truth be told, the fourth generation of the iPad isn't all that
different from the third-generation model. It's more of an "iPad
3S", if you will. I don't mean that as an insult, or to downplay
the update, but this is primarily an under-the-hood update. It's
all about taking a great product and making it better.
I've been playing with this latest version of the iPad for the
past week. Yes, it's faster. Apple claims 2x CPU and graphics
performance thanks to the new A6X chip. That claim has been a
little hard to test since no apps are yet optimized to take
advantage of the new power - and mainly because the previous iPad
was already so fast - but things do generally seem to launch and
run a bit faster than they do on the third-generation iPad. I did
get a chance to see a demo of a game that was optimized for the new
chip (though it's not out yet) and that's clearly where this new
iPad is going to shine.
For now, one primary way you'll notice that this iPad is better
than the last version is in the front-facing camera. Previously, it
was a VGA-quality lens (0.3 megapixels). Now it's HD-quality (1.2
megapixels), capable of capturing 720p video. This is key for
FaceTime. Apple has slowly but surely been rolling out FaceTime HD
video capabilities across all their products. Now the iPad is on
board as well.
The new version of the iPad also gets the update to Apple's new
Lightning connector, matching the iPhone 5 and the new iPod touches
and nanos in this regard. This makes the bottom of the device look
a little cleaner, but connection performance is the same.
The real key to the Lightning connector may be that it allowed
Apple to tweak the internals of the iPad, since this new connector
takes up much less space. As a result, we get better performance
while maintaining the same, awesome 10-hour+ battery life. Perhaps
more importantly, the new iPad doesn't seem to run as hot as the
last version did.
While "heat-gate" ("warm-gate"?) was yet another overblown
situation surrounding Apple a few months back, the temperature of
the device at times was noticeable (though far less than any
laptop, for example). Now it seems less so. Or maybe my hands have
just grown callouses due to my lack of oven mitt wearing while
handling the device. Hard to say.
If you were going to get an iPad before, obviously, you'll want
to get this one now. In fact, you don't even have a choice - Apple
has discontinued the third-generation model. The prices remain the
same across the board as do all of the other features (WiFi/LTE,
Retina display, etc).
Yes, it is kind of lame for those of us who bought
third-generation models that Apple updated the line so quickly, but
well, that's Apple. To me, the fourth-generation leap doesn't seem
to be nearly as big as the leap from the first to second generation
or from the second to third generation, so perhaps take some solace
It simply seems like Apple decided they wanted to push out a new
iPad version before the holidays with the new connector and gave it
a spec boost as a bonus. Why not do more? Because they don't need
to right now. As Phil Schiller put it on stage, "We were already so
far ahead of the competition, I just can't… I can't see them in the
rearview mirror." Maybe the Nexus 10 and the larger Kindle Fire HD
changes that. Or maybe not. It will be interesting to see what, if
anything, Apple does in the spring, their typical time to push
major iPad changes. My guess is that this is a boost intended to
hold them over until a year from now.
The iPad mini
"It's all about helping customers to learn about this great new
technology and use it in ways they've never dreamed of. So what can
we do to get people to come up with new uses for iPad?" Schiller
asked on stage as the fourth-generation iPad rotated to reveal the
main event: the iPad mini.
I've also had the chance to try out the iPad mini for the past
week. My thoughts are much more straightforward here: Yes.
The iPad mini isn't perfect - for one reason in particular (more
on that below) - but it's damn close to my ideal device. In
my review of the Nexus 7
(which I really liked, to the shock of many), I kept coming back to
one thing: the form-factor. Mix this with iOS and Apple's app
ecosystem and the intangibles I spoke about earlier and the iPad
mini is an explosion of handheld joy.
The first thing you'll notice is how light the iPad mini is.
It's similar to the effect when holding
an iPhone 5
for the first time, though not quite as jarring. At the same time,
the iPad mini is far less than half the weight of a full-sized iPad
(0.68 pounds vs. 1.5 pounds), so the difference is very noticeable.
The iPad mini is not quite as light as a Kindle, though it's not
far from that weight. And it's lighter than a Nexus 7.
The next thing you'll notice is how thin the iPad mini is. When
you hold it, it almost feels like you're just holding a sheet of
glass. Amazingly, it's thinner than the iPhone 5. Yes, you read
By comparison, the regular iPad feels like you're holding a full
flat-panel monitor. And the Nexus 7 feels like you're holding a
piece of plastic with a screen bolted on. Apple has really nailed
of this device with its slightly rounded sides (much less
pronounced than the larger iPad), chamfered edge (just like the
iPhone 5), and flat aluminum back.
One of the smarter things Apple has done with the iPad mini was
trim down the front side bezels of the device. On other tablets
(including the iPad), the bezels are extremely noticeable,
especially when compared to something like the iPhone, which has
basically no side bezel. This detracts from the screen.
The reason for these large bezels is simple: you need somewhere
to rest your hands when holding the device. But because you're
likely to hold the iPad mini in one hand, Apple has decided to
instead fix the bezel issue with software. iOS smartly recognizes
when your hand is placed on either side of the screen (when
portrait-aligned) and recognizes that this isn't a touch meant for
input purposes. For people who have been using iOS for a while,
this takes some getting used to - you think you're going to trigger
something on the screen by placing your palm on the screen. But
trust the software.
The truth is that Apple likely had to come up with some solution
here because if they had tried to keep thicker bezels with the iPad
mini, it would have been awkwardly shaped. As it is, the mini is
already quite a bit wider than the Nexus 7. It's about as wide as
it can comfortably be. The bezels would have pushed it over the
edge, so to speak.
The reason for this is the screen. As you might imagine, the
screen is the single most important factor of the iPad mini - and
even more so with this tablet in particular. In order for the iPad
mini to make sense, Apple felt it needed to maintain the same
screen resolution as the iPad 2: 1024-by-768 (more on this below).
This meant they couldn't do a screen closer to the 16×9 ratio that
rivals are using for their mini tablets, and instead had to stick
with the standard iPad ratio (which is closer to 4×3).
While we're on the subject of the screen, let's not beat around
the bush - if there is a weakness of this device, it's the screen.
But that statement comes with a very big asterisk. As someone who
is used to a "retina" display on my phone, tablet, and even now
computer, the downgrade to a non-retina display is quite
noticeable. This goes away over time as you use the iPad mini
non-stop, but if you switch back to a retina screen, it's
That's not to say the iPad mini screen is bad - it's not by any
stretch of the word. It's just not retina-level. At 163 pixels per
inch, it's actually quite a bit better than the iPad 2 screen (the
last non-retina iPad), but you really can't compare it to a retina
In fact, you can't really even compare it to the Nexus 7
display, which is 216 pixels per inch. Text definitely renders
sharper on that display than it does on the iPad mini. However, the
overall display quality (brightness, contrast, color levels) of the
iPad mini seems better than the Nexus 7.
If you haven't used a retina iPad before, the pixel density is
unlikely to be an issue - after all, it was just a couple years ago
that Apple introduced retina displays. And overall, I don't expect
it to be a major issue in the broad market. Remember that the iPad
2 continues to sell very well despite its lack of retina display.
But again, it needs to be mentioned as one potential weakness of
If you can get beyond that (and again, I can), it's hard to find
another fault with the iPad mini. When Apple claims that they've
essentially taken an iPad 2 and put it in this new form factor,
they're not lying. That's perhaps the most remarkable thing about
this device. It's an iPad 2 - a brilliant device in its own right,
- at a fraction of the size.
In fact, it's even
than an iPad 2 in a few respects. The cameras (both front and back)
are much better. The WiFi technology found inside is better.
There's an option to get LTE connectivity (though the model I
tested did not have this included). The Bluetooth is better. You
can get more storage space (up to 64 GB).
I still can't believe it has the same 10 hours of battery life,
but it does. In fact, the battery may even be a little better than
the larger iPad. Insane.
The single biggest selling point of the iPad mini is likely to
be the app ecosystem. Because the iPad mini runs the same version
of iOS as all other iPads, it can also run all the applications
that any other iPad can run - and iPhone/iPod touch apps too. And
because of the aforementioned resolution, it can run all of these
I'm including this paragraph so you'll take a moment to consider
just how important that last sentence is.
The iPad mini can run over 275,000 iPad apps without any
modification. And it can run the over 700,000 iOS apps for all
devices just as the regular iPad can (at scale or scaled up 2x).
Scaled up 2x, some of the apps built for iPhone don't look great
(the text in particular), but that was always an issue with the
iPad as well. Luckily, most of your favorite apps have already been
tailored for the iPad now.
Yes, touch-targets are slightly smaller on the iPad mini than
they are on the iPad, but I haven't had an issue with this. If
anything, it's a little easier to type with the on-screen keyboard
because the keys are closer together, in my opinion.
If Apple had only made the iPad mini as a gaming device, I think
it would be one of the best-selling gadgets of all time. Some of
the iPad games play so beautifully on the iPad mini that you'd
think they were custom-tailored for this form factor. Playing games
on the regular iPad is great. Playing games on the iPad mini is
fantastic because the device is much easier to hold for extended
periods of time in the landscape position.
Gaming has already proven to be a massive opportunity for Apple
with iOS. The iPad mini is going to expand this possibility. If I
were Sony, Nintendo, and yes, Microsoft, I'd be very worried about
The iPad mini is also a great media player. You'll be able to
access all the typical iTunes fare, and it's good for watching
videos in particular because again, it's so light to hold now.
Books, magazines, and reading apps are likely to be another big
use-case for the iPad mini. If you can get past the non-retina text
resolution, this device is clearly more conducive to reading in bed
than its larger counterpart.
So, all of this (beyond the screen caveat) sounds great. Home
run, right? In my mind, yes. I can easily see the iPad mini
becoming what the iPod mini was to the iPod - that is, the version
that takes a popular, iconic device and vastly expands its user
base. Apple says they have sold 100 million iPads since the initial
launch two and a half years ago. That leaves roughly 5.9 billion
people on this planet without one. The iPad mini can help that.
Perhaps the biggest question mark in my mind is about the price.
Leading up to the unveiling, rumors swirled ranging from $249 to
$299 - some event suggested Apple may try to lay the hammer down on
rivals with a $199 price tag. The reality was much more Apple-like:
prices starting at $329.
Apple has grown to be the most successful company in the world
because they sell quality devices that people want at a healthy
margin. As a result, the profits have rolled in. Last week during
their earnings call, Apple made a point of saying that the iPad
mini is going to have lower margins than the rest of their products
- yes, even at $329. That's not an excuse for the price, that's the
reality of the price.
But how will a $329 tablet fare in a world of $199 tablets? It's
hard to know for sure, but my guess would be in the range of "quite
well" to "spectacular". Apple has done a good job of making the
case that the iPad mini is not just another 7-inch tablet - in
fact, it's not a 7-inch tablet at all. It's a 7.9-inch tablet - a
subtle, but important difference. As a result, it can utilize every
iOS app already in existence. And it can access the entire iTunes
ecosystem. And it will be sold in Apple Stores.
Apple isn't looking at this as $329 versus $199. They're looking
at this as an impossibly small iPad 2 sold at the most affordable
price for an iPad yet. In other words,
they're not looking at the tablet competition
. This isn't a tablet. It's an iPad. People love these things.
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