Apple aims to stay atop tablet mountain

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

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Basically, if an organization already supports the iPhone or iPad, it supports the iPad Mini out of the gate. That's a pretty powerful endorsement for business use, particularly as a bring-your-own-device option. Quite frankly, it's a claim that even Microsoft can't make with its upcoming Windows RT tablets, including the Surface RT, because it is essentially a new platform with new a new approach to management.

Education connection

In addition to launching the iPad Mini, Apple also announced an updated version of iBooks Author, which can be used to create digital textbooks. Cook pointed out that the number of textbooks available is now large enough to cover 80% of the classes taught at the high school level and includes a mix of titles from major textbook publishers as well as from smaller groups and individual teachers. That illustrates a powerful influx of content in only 10 months and it proves that iPad-only classrooms are a viable option.

According to Apple, the iPad has been adopted in about 2,500 classrooms across the U.S., a significant number. But with 14,000 school districts across the country, Apple has clearly only scratched the surface of the iPad in education. The biggest criticism so far has been the cost. Although Apple has worked with districts to make iPads affordable through leasing and lease-to-own programs, the cost of outfitting a single high school class is a daunting investment, to say nothing about adopting iPads across all elementary, middle, and high school classes in a district.

The iPad Mini may help bring the iPad to a larger number of schools. Although it is just $70 cheaper than the iPad 2, those savings ads up quickly when buying in volume, saving $70,000 for a district of 1,000 students. If Apple can apply volume leasing and other cost-cutting methods to the iPad Mini as it has the existing iPad lineup, it can make the device even more attractive to school districts. That could drive adoption of the iPad Mini as well as iBooks textbooks.

iPad Mini, iPod touch or iPad 2?

The iPad Mini's pricing means Apple has positioned three different iOS devices at a similar price point. The fifth generation iPod Touch starts at $299; the iPad Mini, at $329; and the iPad 2, at $399.

The iPad Mini actually overlaps both the iPod touch and iPad 2 in terms of how it will be used. It has a bigger screen for gaming and reading than the iPod touch. It has more portability than the iPad 2, making it better for long-form reading and use on-the-go. All three devices are built around Apple's A5 processor.

Deciding which one to buy as a gift, teaching tool, business device, or for personal entertainment isn't going to be an obvious choice for everyone. In fact, many times people find that an iPhone or iPad leads them to use devices in ways that they didn't anticipate. Getting some hands-on time with the devices at an Apple store, mobile carrier, or other retailer may be the best way to make that decision.

Just wait until next year

In closing, let's return to the iPad Mini's price. It is higher than many people expected. While$199 was a hope for many, it clearly wasn't one that panned out. Indeed several analysts and Apple watchers thought the entry point would be $249, or perhaps $299. While $329 is higher, it isn't absurdly more expensive.

More importantly, this is the price for the first-generation iPad Mini. Apple is almost certain to follow the same price and feature diversification strategy as with the iPhone and iPad, in which a device's previous generation becomes the entry-level device. Just as last year's $199 iPhone 4S can now be purchased for $99 and the previous year's iPhone 4 is free with a contract, the iPad Mini that Apple released today will almost certainly be available at a lower cost -- perhaps $199 -- next year.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. He has been a Computerworld columnist since 2003 and is a frequent contributor to Peachpit.com. Faas is also the author of iPhone for Work (Apress, 2009). You can find out more about him at RyanFaas.com and follow him on Twitter (@ryanfaas).

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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