As long expected, Apple unveiled the iPad mini this morning, October 23. The device is a lot like the current iPad, but with a 7.9-inch diagonal screen -- slightly larger than Google's Nexus (Apple spent a lot of time comparing the mini to the Nexus on stage today) and Amazon's 7-inch Kindle Fire HD.
Apple is also giving it a premium price at $329 -- quite a bit higher than the $199 price of the Nexus and 7-inch Kindle Fire HD.
One big focus of the iPad mini is e-books and, perhaps more importantly for Apple's long term strategy, electronic textbooks. Apple entered the electronic or digital textbook market in January and has had some substantial purchases from private and public schools alike. One of the big criticisms of the iPad as digital textbook and learning tool is the device's cost. Another is that the size may not be ideal for children, particularly those in elementary and middle school.
Like Apple, Amazon operates its own textbook business that includes both digital and print titles. Barnes & Noble, which also has a textbook business, has also shown some signs of jumping into the textbook market with its Nook Study program. There are also multiplatform options like Kno, which is known for digital editions of college textbooks but has begun to move into the K-12 education market.
The education market is seen as a crucial long-term prize among technology companies. Many students bring the devices and technologies that they use in middle and high school to college with them. Those preferences often influence technology choices throughout life. The consumerization and BYOD trends are giving workers much greater choice in terms of workplace technology than ever before, particularly among millennials (a.k.a. generation Y) who are just now entering the workforce. Success in education today is likely to lead to success in business and consumer markets for years or even decades to come.
While the education market is critical, the iPad mini is likely to also have a direct impact on the workplace today. Here are six reasons why:
iOS 6's enterprise features and security. While the iPad mini may have a more consumer or student orientation, it will presumably run iOS 6. That means that even as a consumer-first solution, it will be relatively easy to integrate into enterprise environments. Apple has spent years developing iOS integration with key systems like Exchange and ActiveSync, enterprise Wi-Fi standards, secure VPN access, and enterprise certificate management. Equally, if not more, important is the fact that Apple has a built a robust enterprise mobile management framework into iOS. That means a range of powerful security policies that focus on device and app management. All Apple and third-party security and management tools will work with the iPad mini out of the box.
This isn't a small advantage. Many popular seven-inch consumer tablets have little or no enterprise functionality. The Nook Tablet and original Kindle Fire both shipped without built-in Exchange integration. Even the Kindle Fire HD's enterprise feature set, which includes support for Exchange ActiveSync security policies, is pretty basic and limited. In fact, Apple offered that level of integration as far back as iOS 2.
Better fit for some professions and uses. The iPad's ten-inch form factor is great for many uses, but not all. Healthcare professionals have been known to complain that the iPad doesn't fit in the pockets of many hospital scrubs and lab coats. The device can be ungainly as a portable POS station. For factory floor managers or inspectors, the ten-inch iPad doesn't offer the convenience of one-handed use. The expanded professional potential actually goes beyond the iPad mini itself as it offers accessory makers additional ways to customize the device for specific tasks and jobs.
Even more mobile. Even where the ten-inch iPad isn't ungainly, a smaller model may still prove more convenient. A smaller form factor will more easily fit in a jacket pocket or purse while still offering the same functionality. That will make it a more mobile business solution than its larger counterparts, something that can be easily carried even when it isn't required. That could easily lead to more impromptu networking that could translate into more customers or clients.
Wide selection of apps. The iOS App Store has an amazing wealth of mobile apps, including thousands of general business and productivity solutions as well as many specific to given professions and industries. Developers may need to adapt their apps to a new screen size, but Apple has already proved that it can make that process fairly painless. It showed that most recently with the iPhone 5's larger screen as well as with the introduction of the original iPad two and half years ago. Both that range of apps and what can be assumed to be an easy update process make an iPad mini a real contender as a business tablet.
Other tablets also come with robust app markets, but have a tendency to be more fragmented, include apps not optimized for tablet screen sizes, and have more limited selection. The Nook Tablet and Kindle Fire don't even have true access to Google Play. The app selection for RIM's PlayBook is an order of magnitude smaller than what's available for the iPad.
Lower price of entry for both employers and employees. A lower price point will almost certainly attract some people who might not consider a more expensive ten-inch iPad. Similarly, organizations that find the idea of purchasing iPads for staff or for specific use cases -- POS stations, information kiosks, menus, or survey devices -- cost prohibitive at todays $399 entry-level price. The slightly lower price of the mini, $329, could mitigate this consideration.
Greater diversity of devices but one standard OS. Finally, iOS devices are pretty well standardized as far as user experience and interface. Whether you're using an iPod touch, iPhone 5, or an iPad, the experience is extremely consistent. All iOS devices have access to iOS updates on the day they're released. All operate with a single set of management features that are consistent from one device to another and form the core mobile management functionality regardless of mobile management vendor. From an IT perspective, that consistency makes solidly supporting, securing, and managing iOS much easier than Android. The iPad mini diversifies what's available in terms of price, form factor, best use cases, and personal preference, but at the end of the day it is the same iOS experience and functionality seen on every iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch - something that should appeal to IT professionals and business professionals alike.
Ultimately that consistency paired with the expansion of what an iPad or iOS device is and can be is probably the biggest advantage that the iPad mini will have in the market and will bring into the workplace.