Apple CEO Tim Cook is doing a great job emulating the late great Steve Jobs. How so? By launching a new product the way Apple’s co-founder launched more than a few products. Late, expensive, with far more style than substance, and contradicting a previous position (Jobs ragged on the 7-inch tablets and called them DOA).
More style than substance? Yes, that’s the iPad mini, Apple’s newest and least expensive iPad model, which fails to compete with Google’s Nexus 7 or Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD on more than a few bullet points, but which will demolish both in worldwide sales.
For Apple, style beats substance, because, as with most Apple products, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. That gives Apple latitude to cobble together less than stellar components knowing that the finished product will still defeat the competition and return a healthy profit because it feels and works better.
Let me compare the iPad mini with what will prove to be two of the three major competitors (sorry, Samsung, no room for you): Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD.
The iPad mini, as expected, commands a premium price. $329 for the 16GB version, vs. $249 for the Nexus 7, and $199 for the similarly equipped Kindle Fire HD.
Does the extra $80 to $130 matter? Probably not. Again, a good comparison views all the parts, and price is only one component. Suffice it to say, that if the iPad at $499 outsold Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire by healthy margins, it’s safe to say that a $329 7.9-inch iPad mini will do the same, but more so.
On the OS side, iPad mini comes with iOS 6, the Nexus 7 has Android 4.1, and Kindle Fire HD has a Frankenfork of Android. We can argue the merits and deficiencies of each all day, but in the end iOS wins. Why? Quality, ease of use, and variety of tablet apps. And, iOS 6’s killer feature– free and easy updates for years.
This is the surprise component. Both the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD’s screens are slightly smaller than the iPad mini in diagonal measurement, but have higher resolution, and notably higher pixels per inch (216 ppi vs. 163 pip). At first glance, there may not be much difference between the two, but higher resolution is better. Google and Amazon win this one. Most customer are not likely to notice much difference.
Still, it begs the question: Why didn’t Apple build a better screen? Because they didn’t have to. And, as Retina display prices come down, iPad mini users will have a reason to upgrade to future models with higher resolution displays, and Apple won’t need to reconfigure iOS 6 to fit, and app developers won’t have to add another screen size to their apps.
The iPad mini is truly mini when compared to both Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD. But not by much. All are lightweights compared to any 10-inch tablet. The nod goes to iPad mini, but it’s really a non-issue. They’re all light, but thin matters.
The iPad mini carries a dual-core A5 (similar to the CPU in the iPad 2) so it’s outdated already. Google’s Nexus 7 has a quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3. The Amazon Kindle Fire HD as a 1.2Ghz dual-core TI). There’s probably more raw power in the Nexus 7, but most users are unlikely to notice any difference in performance with graphics, media, or app launching. It’s a tie.
The iPad mini wins this comparison quickly. It has a 5-megapixel rear-facing 1080p HD video camera, and a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera; 720 HD for FaceTime or Skype. Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD have single front-facing camera. Advantage iPad mini.
Apple says the mini will do 10 hours, about the same as Nexus 7, but more than Kindle Fire HD. Advantage iPad mini and Nexus 7.
All three devices have the latest Wi-Fi built-in, but only the iPad has a 3G/4G LTE option. Advantage iPad mini. Apple uses the new Lightning connector to charge the iPad mini, while Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD use Micro-USB. Since each device comes with a cable, there’s no advantage one way or another.
This could be a toss up, and whichever device you prefer is the winner. It’s difficult to argue with the quality and quantity of iPad specific apps in the Apple App Store, though. Ditto for accessories. Add a dose of security and privacy and both Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD fall behind the iPad mini. To Google and Amazon, you’re not a customer. You’re a product.
Fit and Finish
I’ve used both a Google Nexus 7 and a Kindle Fire HD, and the latter has a better fit and finish, though both have a plastic feel. Neither device competes well in the feel department when compared to the iPad 3, so I’ll give feel to the iPad mini.
This category is totally subjective, but there are plenty of stats which show that iPad users actually use their devices more than either Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD users. How so? Application purchases and browser stats. About 90-percent of all tablets which browse the web are iPads. That’s 100-million iPad users vs. what? Maybe 5-million Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD’s? Only Apple releases actually sales figures for the iPad. That alone is a telling stat.
Kindle Fire HD is aimed at users who like Kindle, but want modern multimedia content, too. Nexus 7 is aimed at two types of tablet users– those who don’t know any better and go with cheap first, and the more technically minded who want the benefits of Android’s latest version in an inexpensive package (typical Apple haters).
The iPad mini is aimed at the masses, and starting at $329 the price difference between the mini and competition isn’t sufficient to dissuade many purchasers to rush to low end of the food chain. Schools and parents will buy far more iPad mini’s than any other device. Apple’s stronger security and easy upgradability means the iPad mini will take the front row in business, too.
Google and Amazon will sell millions of their respective devices, but Apple will sell far more iPads. Why? Despite what appear to be bullet point deficiencies here and there the iPad mini, as it is with many Apple products, is greater than the sum of the parts.