I Won’t Buy an iPad Mini—But Parents and Schools Will

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really fit that bill—I can’t hold my own iPad for more than an hour or two without wearing out my fingers and wrists.

Barring some big breakthrough in battery or display technology, the easiest way to make a tablet lighter is to make it smaller. An iPad Mini would presumably be a lot lighter than the iPad 2 or the iPad 3—all the more so if it doesn’t have a Retina display (which necessitates bigger, heavier batteries).

Second, the existing iPad is too expensive. At $499 for a basic 16-gigabyte, Wi-Fi-only version, it’s not an easy purchase, either for a school or for a parent. In a survey, the National Retail Federation found that parents expect to spend an average of $218 this year on education-related electronic devices for their kids. That’s obviously not enough to cover an iPad 3, even if you assume the device will last for a couple of years.

Schools, too, are price-sensitive, as Apple has already discovered: districts bought more than a million iPad 2’s after the company lowered the price of the device to $399 this spring. “The reason we did it was because we believed that the sales would be incrementally larger, that there was price elasticity, and that there was a buyer that wanted the best product and that needed it to be a little less expensive,” CEO Tim Cook said during the company’s last quarterly earnings call in July. “I think it did help our sales … and I am really glad that we did it.”

Again, the easiest way to make the iPad even less expensive would be to make it smaller. Reducing the overall size of the device means you can use a smaller LCD panel, and in a device where the most expensive component is the screen, that lowers the bill of materials drastically.

There’s one more upside to downsizing: a smaller, lighter device is less likely to get dropped on a classroom’s hard floor. And if it’s less expensive, a drop isn’t as much of a catastrophe.

To recap: Size matters more in some markets than others, and I’m arguing that education is the market where it matters most. The iPad Mini (if it’s real) might turn out to be popular with consumers, and it might make Apple customers out of a few people who would otherwise have gravitated to a 7-inch Android tablet.

But I think it’s really aimed at students—and millions of them will probably be asking their parents to buy them one this holiday season. We’re likely to see Apple follow up with a renewed effort to get textbooks into the iBooks Store, and to make it easier to author e-textbooks that look good on mid-size screens.

I fell in love with Apple back in 1987, when I got my first Mac on a student discount program. If Apple can get an iPad Mini into every student’s backpack, I think it’s destined to control a big chunk of the educational technology market, and to win a new generation of fanboys and fangirls.

(Update 10/12/12: There’s already talk that the Oct. 23 press event will be heavy on iBooks news.)

(Update 10/19/12: Analysts are now speculating that Apple will kill of the iPad 2 to help make way for the iPad Mini. That accords with my education hypothesis: If the company wants to give parents and schools a low-cost tablet option, it shouldn’t muddy the waters by offering both a $249 mini-tablet and a $399 full-size tablet.)

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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6 responses to “I Won’t Buy an iPad Mini—But Parents and Schools Will”

  1. @fepcapital says:

    Beyond schools – would love to hear from women out there. My understanding is that a smaller lighter Ipad will also appeal to females who carry a purse and who find the current large Ipad format is to heavy and does not fit into the average size purse! Women are an important market and influence the majority of consumer purchases in most households. Don t be suprised to see wide adoption of a smaller Ipads by single women and mothers who are trapped in cars ferrying kids around and want a larger device than a smart phone but smaller than a full tablet, to read e-mail, magazines, and high school sports.com for directions to the soccer game – in service of there demanding the next gens.

  2. Wade Roush says:

    @fepcapital, that is an excellent point. I have a second-generation Kindle, which is about the same size as the iPad Mini would be, and it seems very purse-able. It would also fit better in a satchel or briefcase. (I just got back from Italy, and noticed that all of the men there are carrying leather satchels and other types of “manpurses” these days.) So, maybe I’m wrong and there’s a big group of consumers who’d like to carry an Apple tablet but need something smaller than the iPad.

    Here’s one more possibility: as the cost of tablets comes down, we’ll just have lots of them sitting around. I think of this as the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” scenario. In that show (1987-1994) the Enterprise crew used iPad-like devices called PADDs and it wasn’t unusual to see half a dozen of them strewn across Captain Picard’s desk. I used to chuckle at that, because the implication was that each PADD could only show one thing. But maybe we’re approaching an abundance scenario where you have lots of tablets optimized for different settings or applications, or they’re so cheap you can have one on the couch, one at your desk, one in the kitchen, one in your car, etc.

  3. I’m not sure I agree with a lot of your suppositions. I use one iPad with my 6 year old autistic daughter and have another that I use in my classroom of 8th graders – almost every kids “holds” them the same way – they lay them flat on the table and look down. I do have iBallz one each iPad that are designed to protect the corners from collison with the floor and act as a convenient handhold.

    When I walk around or sit and read like now, it set in an iLid that protects the surfaces and gives me something to grip onto as I broadcast around my classroom.

    I understand that smaller is cheaper but many of students struggle with the small images in an iPad and have a difficult time with following along and comprehension if they have to adjust the size as they read. Our visually impaired students like the ability to zoom and increase the size but they get “lost” on the page or can’t find the “button” they need on an app because it’s hidden.

    As far as women preferring a smaller size, I don’t see much of a market there. We adapted to 16 inch laptops and diaper bags – we can find a way to carry an iPad.

  4. Wade Roush says:

    Hi Tammy — Great to hear from an old friend, how are things in Lansing? It’s interesting to hear that the existing iPad already works well for your daughter and your students. What you’re saying accords with my first instinct, which is that there’s something really useful about a 10-inch screen. In that case, maybe Apple should try to lower the price of the iPad 2 even further. Whatever the real market need — the bottom line is that Apple is the richest company on Earth and they can afford to experiment with versions of the iPad that suit every taste.

  5. Sean says:

    I’m waiting for something I can carry around in my cargo pocket. I’m in the Army and use my iPhone for almost everything I do – to do lists, managing contacts, balancing five or more different calendars, writing notes about projects on the go, etc. I even manage to write memorandums and reports on the iPhone while I’m in the field. The iPad is too big to really be portable and the iPhone is too small to use comfortably for more than a little while. From my point of view, a 7 inch iPad is just the right size. Considering that the iPad 3 isn’t yet powerful enough to really be considered a laptop replacement, I think that a smaller version can bridge the gap between my iPhone and my MacBook Pro.

  6. cherimariotti says:

    I personally would love a smaller iPad that won’t weigh me down while carrying it around in my purse. I have been hearing about the iPad Mini for weeks from a co-worker at DISH and now I can’t stop looking for whatever information I can find on it. I really just want it to be able to take it with me out of the house, especially with all the new shows and new fall season coming up shortly, to watch live TV on the DISH Remote Access app so I don’t have to miss any of my shows this season. I know the price will probably be more than the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire, but I am sure it will be worth it. I cannot wait until they announce the release date.