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Now that the iPhone 5 is out -- and I'm just as surprised as everyone that it wasn't called 'the new iPhone' -- the unceasing rumor and speculation mill has now turned its attention towards the most mythical of Apple products, the iPad Mini.
The iPad Mini prompts interesting product rumors because they appear to be based almost entirely on speculation, rumor, and the usual handful of 'unnamed sources', or 'people with knowledge of the situation'. There's been a single hardware leak of which I am aware of, and that appeared to show what looked like -- to me at any rate -- a fake back panel.
In other words, there's less evidence for the existence of the iPad Mini than there is for Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, or UFO visitations.
This is, without a doubt, Apple's most mythical product to date. But people -- pundits, tech media types, and regular Joe and Jane Average -- are talking about the iPad Mini. And it seems that the reasons people want one fall roughly into one of two categories.
iPad Mini: Price?
First, people think that a 'mini' iPad will likewise come with a 'mini' price tag. People seem to automatically -- but falsely -- equate something being petite to it being cheap. That's not the case at all.
Compare the iPad and the iPhone. A 16GB iPad with WiFi and 3G costs $629, while an off-contract iPhone 5 -- which is smaller -- will set you back $649.
Small and cheap do not go hand-in-hand. While the likes of Amazon and Google are busy making and selling tablets for $199, they're not making much of a profit on these. In fact, I'd be surprised if they make a dollar.
Again, compare this to Apple. That $649 16GB iPhone 5 only costs the company an estimated $207 to make. That leaves a lot of room for mega profits.
And Apple, with more than $10 billion in the bank, knows everything there is to know about mega profits.
If Apple was willing to slash prices, then why not start with the iPhone 5, and start sacrificing revenue per unit for increased sales on that device? If the manufacturing cost estimates for the iPhone 5 are anywhere close to accurate -- and I believe they are -- then the company has ample wriggle room to slash $100 or more off the flagship handset and still pull in a king's ransom for each one sold.
Apple is totally and completely unapologetic about keeping prices at a premium level, and there's no reason to suspect that this would change with a new product like the iPad mini.
If you doubt it, take a look at the prices for the iPod touch and iPod nano -- starting at $199 and $149 respectively. These products, neither of which are new, continue to be offered at a premium price, costing as much -- if not more -- as some Android smartphones or tablets.
The iPad Mini? An artist's rendering. (Image credit: Nickolay Lamm/InventHelp)
iPad Mini and the Goldilocks Paradox
The other reason people put forth for wanting an iPad Mini is what I call the Goldilocks Paradox. The iPhone, these people believe, is just too small -- although it will be interesting to see if an extra 0.5-inch on the screen will make a difference -- while the full-size iPad is just too big. The iPad Mini, with its mythical 7-inch or so screen, claim the Goldilockers, would be just right.
But will it really be 'just right'?
While in theory it makes sense to fit a product between the iPhone and the iPad, there's an old adage that says that the difference between theory and practice is that while in theory something should work, in practice it might not.
And this is true of hybrid tablets that fall in between full-sized tablets with screens around 10-inches big and smartphones with 4- to 5-inch screen. The problem isn't so much the hardware, but the content that people want to consume on the device.
Take web sites as an example. Web designers learned a long time ago that websites designed for desktop PCs don't work well on smartphones, and created pages specifically suited for display on smaller screens and controlled by a finger. Tablets, on the other hand, are just about big enough to properly display the full-sized site aimed at desktop users. It's not always perfect, but most of the time it works.
Where does this leave the hybrid tablets? Will full-sized web pages be squashed down to fit the smaller screen, or will users of these devices have to make do with the sites designed for smartphones? In my experience with 7-inch tablets, neither solution is ideal. Both are a compromise.
Moreover, it's not just websites. This problem extends to almost all visual content consumed on mobile devices, from ebooks to apps. And there's no sign of the problem going away any time soon.
Apple’s iPhone With A Phone
There's another problem, and it has nothing to do with the size of the iPad Mini and everything to do with price -- but not of the iPad, but of the iPod touch, Apple's iPhone without a phone.
Apple has decided to price the new iPod touch starting at $299, and no matter how you massage the prices, this doesn't leave much room for the iPad Mini. Would the market support a price of $350 when a full-sized iPad 2 costs $399, and the latest model only another $100?
I have to say that I'm far from convinced, even where Apple fanboys are concerned. Even if they are willing to pay $40 for the new iPhone 5 USB cable.
Right now, until Apple starts sending out press invites to the iPad Mini launch event, I'm putting this piece of hardware in the same category as the Roswell crash, unicorns, and the lost city of Atlantis.