I wasn’t going to write about Apple’s latest release in the iPad Mini and iPad 4 mostly because there wasn’t really anything to write about. The iPad 4 was a bit of a shock considering that the 3 is barely 6 months old and was a pretty significant upgrade over its predecessor so you wouldn’t really think it needed a refresh this early on. The iPad Mini was widely rumoured for a very long time, so much so that blogging about it would feel like I was coming incredibly late to a party that I didn’t really care about in the first place. Thinking about it more though the iPad Mini represents a lot more than just Apple releasing yet another iOS product, it’s a sign of how Apple is no longer in control of the market they created.
Steve Jobs famously said that a tablet smaller than the iPad wouldn’t make any sense as it’d be too small to compete with regular tablets and too big to compete with smart phones. With Apple’s relatively long development cycle its likely that he was aware of the iPad Mini development but I don’t think the idea for its creation came from him. It was easy for him to make judgements from atop the massive tower of iPad sales that he was sitting on at the time however I don’t think he expected them to be as successful as they were. None of them can match the iPad for total numbers sold yet but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a niche area that Apple was failing to exploit.
It all started with the Kindle Fire just over a year ago. The tablet was squarely aimed at a particular market, one that didn’t want to spend a lot on a tablet device and was happy to accept a lower end device in return. This proved to be wildly popular and as of this month Amazon has shipped over 7 million of the devices putting it second only the iPad itself in terms of sales. This in turn drew other companies to the small tablet form factor with the most notable recent addition being the Google Nexus 7 which as of writing has already sold an estimated 3 million units world wide. Apple can’t have been ignorant of this and saw that there was a rather large niche that they weren’t exploiting, hence the release of the iPad Mini.
For a company that’s been making and dominating markets for a decade now the iPad Mini then represents the first product Apple’s created as a reaction to market forces. Whilst we can always point to technology companies that did what did before they entered the market they’re usually no where near as successful. With the small tablet form factor sector however there are multiple companies who have managed to make quite a killing in this particular space prior to Apple entering. You could argue that Apple still owns the tablet space as a whole (and that’s true, to a point) but when it comes to form factors other than those of the traditional iPad Apple has been absent up until this week, and that’s lost money they’ll never recover.
Comparatively it’s a small slice of the overall tablet pie which Apple is still getting the lion’s share of. Even though they might’ve lost 10 million potential sales to a niche market they weren’t filling they still managed to ship 14 million iPads last quarter. Their figures for this quarter might be down on what people were expecting however with the release of the new iPad and the iPad Mini right before the holiday season it’s very likely that they’ll make up that shortfall without too much trouble. Whether that will translate into dominance of the smaller form factor tablet market is up for debate and realistically we’ll only know once next quarter’s results come in.
Whilst I don’t believe this is the beginning of the end for Apple it is the first product to come from them in a long time that, as far as I can tell, is a reaction to the market rather than them attempting to create one. That’s a very different Apple than the one we’re used to seeing and whilst it isn’t necessarily a bad thing (dominating semi-established markets seems to be their bread and butter) it does make you wonder if their focus has shifted away from market creation. I don’t really know enough to answer that but if you were still wondering what Apple under Tim Cook would look like then you might be seeing the beginnings of an answer here. Whether that’s good or not is an exercise I’ll leave for the reader.