iPad Mini and Apple’s new defensive war

OPINION: Apple’s new smaller iPad is there primarily to counter rivals success

OPINION: Apple’s new smaller iPad is there primarily to counter rivals success – does this point to a new type of strategy from the Cuppertino firm?

There’s no doubt the smaller, cheaper tablet market is hot property at the moment. The Galaxy Tab 2 7 was an early proponent of it, and more recently the Kindle Fire HD and the Asus made Nexus 7 have been lapping up critical acclaim and the sales to boot.

The rise of these dinky devices, which often have more of a content slant than previous tablets, shows two things. One that people are willing to buy non-Apple tablets if they are cheap enough, and two that there is a bit more innovation happening in the market than there once was – moving away from the ‘me too’ cultrue of devices which made up the bulk of the iPad’s competition not so long ago.

It’s a success story that seems not to have been lost on Apple.

In any market, Apple’s strategy is generally to come in over the top of the competition price wise. It’s a strategy that’s seen it do particularly well in portable media players, where most of the tech world seems to have given up competing with it, smartphones, and tablets. In the latter the firm dominates the sector, and very profitably so, raking in all that extra margin from the comparatively high price points.

It seems a pertinent question to ask why, when Apple’s strategy could scarcely have worked better for it, has the firm decided to get down amongst the lower end of the market in tablets, when it was previously content to sit comfortably on top of it, watching the smaller, cheaper dogs fight for its scraps.

The obvious answer is it doesn’t want its dominant position dented by not being in a market segment in which upstart rivals are achieving some success.

And that’s the point. This is an uncharacteristic move by Apple – one of countering what the market is doing, rather than trendsetting. Apple usually marches to the beat of its own drum – and more than that, it’s the industry that follows in its steps, not the other way around.

No one would have expected it to compete with Dell on cheap desktops just because it can. Indeed, when the surge in popularity of netbooks flared up a few years ago, Apple was content to watch the others fight it out amongst themselves, without so much as dipping its toe in the water.

The obvious thing to raise an eyebrow at with the iPad mini is the price – at £269 for the entry level device it’s a good £100 more expensive than the Nexus 7. But I think this will prove to be a moot point – Apple has certainly never had trouble convincing people to pay more money for its hardware.

And of course they still haven’t abandoned the full sized, full priced iPad. But it could be argued its brand strength comes from premium comparison – of reassuringly expensive class in a market of cheaper rivals.

And while we’re on the subject, the new iPad 4th generation can be seen as a bit of an odd move as well, considering it’s only been 6 months since the last one. Usually early adopters can count on having the most up to date model for a year before Apple comes out with a better version. It will be interesting to see the reaction from hardcore Apple fans towards this move.

Does the iPad Mini have a good chance of competing with the other 7-inchers? Yes. Does it look like a good product? Yes. Does it seem like an out of character move for the firm? Yes. Will it sell like the clappers regardless? Once more, yes. But the seeming change in ethos from Apple High Command is an interesting trend to note, and we may well look back at this launch as something of a turning point.