First, Microsoft announced its Surface — one of the higher impact gadgets we’ve heard about lately — then Google unveiled its Nexus. Within its 7-inch package, the Nexus offers Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, a Tegra 3 quad-core processor and 1GB RAM — for only $199.
Make no mistake. While Google would love to see Android-powered tablets dethrone the iPad, the Nexus 7 is aimed squarely at Amazon’s Kindle Fire, a 7-inch non-Google certified Android tablet with the same price tag.
The Kindle Fire, one of the more popular Android tablets around, doesn’t have to bow to any requests or guidelines from Google and offers its own range of apps to replace stock Google ones. Thus Google’s assault. The end result is beneficial to consumers. For a mere $199, they can now get a 7-inch tablet with better hardware and software than the Kindle Fire.
And just when you think that the 7-inch tablet arena couldn’t get anymore interesting, rumors have it that Apple is preparing to launch a mini iPad — 7.85-inch to be specific.
In the Shadows of Cupertino
If there ever actually is one, a mini iPad makes a whole lot of sense. Preferred screen size is highly subjective. Seven-inch tablets are ideal for e-book reading and casual gaming, especially when it involves the use of an accelerometer. On the other hand, a 10-inch device is better suited for document viewing and Web browsing.
Of course, the advantages of 10-inch tablets come with a huge cost in terms of portability. In fact, I find myself using the iPad mostly at home, refusing to carry it with me when I’m not carrying a bag.
Apple can cater to more consumers and give them more choice by coming out with a mini iPad. But will it be worth it? Given the affordability of the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7, Apple would have to reduce its margin in order to better compete in the segment. Also, the mini iPad could cannibalize the sales of 10-inch iPads, a product that could retain higher margins.
Yet, it still make sense to venture into a space Steve Jobs once dismissed. The perspective of the late Apple chief is reasonable. He didn’t want to build a mini iPad running on less than stellar specifications that would end up ruining the entire experience. But the Nexus 7 shows that just because it’s small and cheap doesn’t mean that it can’t come with decent hardware.
In the Fold
Profit will not be the main reason why a mini iPad makes sense to Apple, not directly at least. A 7-incher makes sense because it has better chances of maintaining or even increasing its tablet market share by catering to more consumers. And what’s market share good for? Platform stickiness. Lock-in effect.
Unlike a feature phone, for which a user would have little or no attachment, modern mobile platforms require investments in terms of app purchases, services and familiarity. A user is more likely to upgrade to a mobile device running the same platform as their current machine than to switch platforms, losing all their monetary investment and going out of their comfort zone in the process.
With a lower-cost iPad, Apple can capture consumers with less to spend, instead of having them locked-in to the Android ecosystem uncontested. This means that Apple won’t be left out each time these users upgrade or purchase a new mobile device. So far, Android tablets aren’t doing as well as their smartphone counterparts. It appears that low-cost 7-inchers might just be the catalyst to get things moving.
This space will get even more interesting when the next Kindle Fire is announced. Upgrades are expected on several fronts, and an new version could happen by the end of this year, according to AllThingsD.