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Apple responds to Android threat with U-turn on ‘iPad Mini’

Published: October 23, 2012 | 7:22 am
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Steve Jobs dismissed smaller tablets, but Apple is expected to announce an “iPad Mini” today. Shane Richmond examines what has changed.

If Apple indeed does unveils a new, smaller iPad at its event in San Jose today, expect to be reminded of that it was just two years ago that Steve Jobs dismissed 7-inch tablet computers. Jobs said: “This size is useless unless you include sandpaper so users can sand their fingers down to a quarter of their size.”
He said that such tablets were “tweeners” and all that developers would do with them was build slightly larger smartphone apps. Of course, it’s not unheard of for Steve Jobs to say his company wasn’t interested in a product category, while actually pursuing that same category with total determination. But assuming this was Jobs’s honest opinion, why has Apple changed its mind?
Well, for one thing some of its rivals have begun to have some success with tablets in that size. Amazon has sold about seven million Kindle Fire tablets – the 7-inch device that runs Amazon’s custom version of Android – while Google has sold three million Nexus 7 tablets since launch in July, according to Forrester.
These numbers aren’t massive but Apple might believe that there is an opportunity there. Just as it did with its iPod range, the company might think that offering different versions in different form factors will make life harder for competitors.
Second, Apple’s tablet is actually rumoured to have a 7.85-inch display. The company is likely to argue that the extra screen size is crucial: it will have a screen area almost 40 per cent larger than Google’s Nexus 7.

Jobs was making his remarks at a time when the 7-inch tablets coming onto the market were running a version of Android designed to be run on phones, a criticism that can’t be applied to Google’s Nexus 7.
But another appealing aspect of the Nexus 7 is the price. For some time the iPad was unchallenged on price, with rival tablets going on sale for about the same, if not more. Over the last 12 months, Amazon and Google have both delivered cheap, usable tablets.
Few analysts are expecting Apple’s smaller iPad to match the £159 Kindle Fire HD but it is likely that Apple will offer something that isn’t that much more expensive and that comes with the vast App Store and the established iPad brand.
Apple’s U-turn on smaller tablets puts it in an unfamiliar position, however. Its hit gadgets – the iPod, iPhone and iPad – have all pioneered and to an extent defined their markets. This time it finds itself responding to a threat rather than breaking new ground, but Tim Cook, Mr Jobs’ successor, clearly believes he has to act against the strengthening challenge f rivals.
Alongside the iPad Mini, reports have suggested that Apple might unveil a 13-inch version of its ‘Retina’ MacBook Pro. The laptop with a very high resolution display is currently available on in 15-inch screen size.
Improvements to Apple’s iMac and Mac Mini computers are also expected but it is not known whether they will be shown off today or released separately.


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