The iPad Mini: It's all about iTunes

Apple's anchor app will gain another foothold when the 7.9-inch tablet ships, taking on Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire for entertainment use

[UPDATED 11:15 a.m. PT] Apple today unveiled something "little": the long-fabled iPad Mini. Rumors of a 7-inch Apple tablet have been around even before the first iPad was announced, despite the fact that former Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in no uncertain terms that a 7-inch tablet -- what Android makers were shipping prior to the iPad's debut -- simply couldn't handle the Web or apps very well, so Apple wouldn't go there.

"The 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps," Jobs said in October 2010. "Every tablet user is also a smartphone user. No tablet can compete with a smartphone" when it comes to stashing it in a purse or pocket. "Seven-inch tablets are tweeners: too big to compete with a smartphone, and too small to compete with an iPad," he said.

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Jobs' logic made a lot of sense, and when Amazon.com came out with its anemic Kindle Fire last fall, my belief was strengthened that the perpetually rumored iPad Mini was another creation by rumormongering bloggers. But then came the well-liked Nexus 7, an Asus-made, Google-branded 7-inch Android tablet that has a special front end to the standard Android OS -- a front end explicitly meant to promote music, video, reading, and game activities, all through the Google Play store.

One more Apple product in your collection
Apple apparently saw the same potential and today unveiled an entertainment-oriented iPad with a slightly larger screen than what the competitors offer: 7.9 inches, versus the "regular" iPad's 9.7 inches. But the pixel resolution is the same for both: 1,024 by 768 pixels, so apps and Web pages remain at the same pixel size on either device. The 7.9-inch size is not the 7-inch size that Jobs pooh-poohed, and the use of the identical pixel count confirms his stated objections that a "tweener" was not what Apple wanted. Using the iPad Mini is more like using an 11.6-inch laptop versus a 13-inch laptop than it is using a Kindle Fire or Asus Nexus 7 versus a full-size Android tablet.

The iPad Mini makes sense in the context of being an iTunes-to-go device, since Apple already makes more money from iTunes than its entire iPod lineup. iPods (and iPhones and iPads) are the razors, and iTunes is the razor-blade dispenser, with perpetual revenue for Apple. The iPad Mini becomes yet one more razor in your collection that gets you to buy more blades.

Of course, the original iPad is already an iTunes-to-go device, in addition to being a laptop replacement for apps and serious Web browsing. As expected, Apple is positioning the iPad Mini as a supplemental device to the full-size iPad and to the iPhone, much as the iPod Touch has become the iPad or iPhone training-wheels product for kids and the pocketable game console for adults who somehow don't have an iPhone. The quarter-pound iPad Mini fits in a coat or jacket pocket, and it's suited for playing games, reading books, and watching videos.

As you would expect, it also streams to a TV via AirPlay akin to all other current iOS devices. Once video-capable Lightning cables are finally available, the iPad Mini should also support direct video output to TVs, projectors, and monitors. By contrast, the Amazon.com and Google competitors can't act as video jukeboxes.

Also no surprise, the iPad Mini runs the full iOS and standard iOS apps, much like the Nexus 7 does for Android. I worry that the iPad Mini's smaller scereen will scrunch the apps' and Web pages' display, so they are difficult to read -- obviously, that will be an issue for dense apps and pages but not for simpler apps and websites. And the onscreen keyboard is not full size, so touch typists will have to adjust. However, the more pronounced size differences haven't hurt either the Nexus 7 or the Samsung Galaxy Note 5-inch "phablet" smartphone/tablet hybrid, which has an even smaller screen.

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