Apple aims to stay atop tablet mountain

Even priced at $329, the iPad Mini will be a success

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The move illustrates one of the competitive advantages iOS has over Android in attracting developers as well as buyers -- there's very little fragmentation in the iOS ecosystem. With just three screen sizes (original iPhone/iPod touch, iPad and iPad Mini and iPhone 5/4th generation iPod touch), it's easy for developers to ensure compatibility with every potential iOS device. Even if you add support for retina displays, it's still easy for developers to deliver an app that runs on every device.

Screen size isn't the only fragmentation concern. There's also mobile OS version fragmentation, something that carriers and manufacturers have made more problematic in the Android world. With such a range of devices running an OS that's one or two years out of date, developers must often choose between creating apps for older OS releases for maximum accessibility or apps using the latest OS and hardware features for the best experience. Android also creates security and device management challenges for IT departments in schools and businesses because of the range of OS versions.

Less lock-in

One point of debate between iOS and Android fans is whether Apple's curated App Store approach is better than Google's open approach, which lets users get apps from Google Play as well as alternative stores. While many Android devices offer that more open approach, some of the most popular tablets -- the Kindle Fire and Nook lines -- don't. In fact, they're even more restrictive than Apple in some key ways.

While Apple offers ebooks and newspaper/magazine subscriptions through iBooks and Newsstand, it doesn't force you to use them instead of competing apps. An iPad owner can load the Kindle and Nook apps, as well as a range of other ebook readers, and get access to any books or magazines available from their related stores. iPad owners can buy music from Amazon's MP3 store and load them into iTunes and into iTunes Match and listen to them on an iPad.

That opens up a wider selection of options. Amazon and Barnes & Noble don't offer that same flexibility, which could make the iPad Mini a bit more attractive for readers.

iOS experience, ecosystem, and halo effect

The iOS experience is extremely consistent across devices. That alone can be a selling point for consumers. I recently witnessed the value of this first-hand when my 76-year old father, who has had an original iPad for nearly two years, got his first smartphone, an iPhone. Both he and I assumed that he'd have trouble using it at first. After a few minutes, however, he declared that it was "just a baby iPad" and he was off and running with no learning curve at all. For many technophiles, a reliably consistent experience isn't the biggest selling point. For most consumers, however, it's an extremely important advantage.

A device with no learning curve that integrates seamlessly with much of Apple's existing ecosystem is an attractive feature for anyone invested in that ecosystem. It's an aspect of the halo effect that often leads iOS device users to purchase additional Apple products. There's no learning, no rebuilding or moving of media libraries, no need to buy alternate versions of apps. Everything just works.

Business tested and vetted

In addition to a greater range of media choices, the iPad Mini also offers more functionality, particularly for business users. Like all iOS devices, it can integrate with Exchange and corporate networks, work with VPNs, run the same business and productivity apps, and network with printers that support Apple's AirPrint. Although Amazon has dipped its toe in the enterprise water with the Kindle Fire HD, no one would consider it a serious business tool and most IT professionals wouldn't describe it as enterprise-worthy. The Nook lineup is even less business appropriate.

More importantly, the iPad Mini comes with all the enterprise credentials of any other iOS device, including Apple's mobile management and security framework. There's no need to worry about how well an existing mobile management solution and strategy will work with it. There's no new device enrollment or deployment issues.

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