The 7-inch tablet market lights up, igniting another screen for retailers to optimize.
Bill Siwicki , Editor, Mobile
Apple Inc. today unveiled the iPad mini, a smaller version of its mega-popular iPad tablet designed to compete with the likes of Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle Fire HD and Google Inc.’s Nexus 7. It also debuted a fourth-generation iPad, which boasts a faster Apple A6X processor. Apple says two weeks ago it sold its 100 millionth iPad.
The iPad mini is 7.2mm thick and weighs 0.68 pounds, 53% lighter than the fourth iPad. The screen is 7.9 inches in size (compared with 9.7 inches on the larger iPad) and offers 1,024 by 768 resolution. The mini features the Apple A5 chip, a 5-megapixel HD camera, and 10 hours of battery life. The 16GB Wi-Fi version sells for $329. A 16GB Wi-Fi plus 4G LTE version sells for $549. Online orders begin Oct. 26; the device will ship in November.
By comparison, Amazon’s 7-inch Kindle Fire HD sells for $199, Google’s 7-inch Google Asus Nexus 7 for $199, and Samsung’s 7.7-inch Galaxy Tab at $450 with a two-year wireless contract. These devices run the Android mobile operating system from Google.
The iPad mini runs any app created for the iPad. 275,000 of the 700,000 apps in the App Store are iPad apps, Apple says.
Apple adds, notably, that for web browsing the iPad mini’s 7.9-inch display is significantly bigger than that of a 7-inch Android tablet, not just because of the extra 0.9 inches in size but because the Android user interface takes up some of the screen. When browsing a web page on an iPad mini, the device displays the page on the entirety of the screen.
With the addition of the iPad mini, worldwide sales of tablets with screens in the 7-inch range should hit 34 million this year, up 100% from 17 million last year, technology research firm IHS iSuppli predicts. Sales will jump 97% in 2013 to 67 million, the research firm estimates.
The iPad mini is bound to be a success, but perhaps not as successful as imagined because of price, says Tom Nawara, vice president of digital strategy and design at Acquity Group LLC, an e-commerce and m-commerce consulting firm.
“Due to the broad halo of the Apple product ecosystem and the associated marketing machine, the iPad mini should receive a lot of attention and will most likely see good initial sales figures from early adopters,” Nawara says. “However, the iPad mini’s pricing will play a huge part in its market reception, as a price point far above competitive tablet offerings from Amazon and Google would greatly hinder its ability to compete. A $329 entry-level tablet, even from Apple, will be hard to swallow when compared to a $199 Google Nexus 7.”
The iPad mini shines the light on the market for tablets 7-8 inches on the diagonal. Some retailers already are optimizing their e-commerce sites for the larger iPad. If the iPad mini floods the market with millions more nearly 8-inch tablets, retailers may want to adjust their sites.
“This is a lively debate inside all the companies I’m involved with,” says Chris Friedland, co-founder of Coffee Table, an iPad retail catalog aggregator app. “Phones keep getting bigger and faster, making the experience better. Tablets to some degree are trending towards being smaller than the original iPad, so you are seeing a user experience convergence around a bigger phone and smaller tablet. For present tactical decisions, you have to now not only design and optimize around multiple browsers, but now multiple mobile platforms.”
This could be a cue for responsive web design, the design technique that lays out one set of web content to fit the size of a device’s screen, be it a PC, a tablet, a smartphone or a TV.
“Apple’s entry into the 7-inch tablet market gives the overall niche credence and will require retailers to pay attention to this particular size of screen,” Nawara says. “Retailers will need to develop experiences—through responsive design, specific mobile web sites and/or native apps—that are optimized for this size and take advantage of its unique qualities and user needs. Retailers need to be very cognizant of the need for omnichannel interaction with their customers, and implement experiences that optimally address all platforms that their customers are using. As the number of potential device formats grows, responsive design becomes a more and more important piece in this strategy.”