On October 23, 2012, Apple finally announced the long-anticipated iPad Mini. This smaller version of the iPad is seen as a direct answer to the Kindle Fire, Nexus 7, Nook HD, Samsung Galaxy Tab and other smaller tablets coming out on the market for the Christmas shopping season. So is it worth it?
That depends. Mostly it depends on how much you're willing to spend some extra money in order to get an Apple product. The iPad Mini did not start at $200 as rumored. Instead, you'll have to fork over $330 for a 16gig wi-fi model. The iPad Mini is also 7.9 inches diagonally instead of the 7 inches of the Nexus 7. That's a bigger screen and a bigger price, but it's still smaller than the 10 inch iPad and slightly less expensive than its older cousin.
Do You Own Apple?
Do you already have an older iPad? Do you have an iPhone or iPod Touch? If you do, sticking with an iOS device makes a lot of sense. Your apps will be good on the new device, and you won't have to fiddle with converting your music or other items to a different platforms. If you're an Android owner, the same is true in reverse. It makes more sense to stick with Android and keep your existing apps and materials.
Is This Groundbreaking?
Not really. If you own an iPad 2, you've already got access to pretty similar hardware and exactly the same screen resolution. The iPad Mini is tinier and thinner, so that part is nice, but this isn't the $200 Kindle Fire HD killer we were hoping to see. There's probably good reason for that. The Kindle Fire HD is likely a loss-leader just like the original Kindle Fire. Amazon is in the primary business of selling you content, and Apple is in the primary business of selling you hardware.
Why Nexus 7?
The Nexus 7 is thicker and heavier, but the screen actually looks better. If you want a tablet to play movies, read books, and browse the Internet, the Nexus 7 has you covered. If you object to Apple's domination of software and their closed system for app development, stick with Google. If you want to use Google Maps and not the tragedy that is Apple Maps, stay with the Nexus 7. Note that the Nexus 7 will not run iPad apps, nor will it play iTunes movies. It's one of the ways Apple keeps you locked into their ecosystem.
The iPad still has much better parental controls. You can switch off the browser, disable email, remove app purchases and in-app purchases all out of the box. The iPad is also superior for accessibility features for the disabled. It may sound silly to say it, but it's actually a terrific device for the visually impaired. Google has made progress, but their features are just not as strong in either of these areas.
Apple also dominates the competition in the number of apps available. The accessory argument isn't as strong here, since the iPad Mini is a radically different form factor from other iPads, but I'm sure case makers and pouch sewers are on the scene as we speak. One complication to note is that Apple's new charging connection is chipped to prevent companies other than "Apple partners" from making accessories. That also means they've wiped out any pre-iPhone 5 chargers you may have lying around your house. There are going to be a lot of very disappointed Apple fans who find this out on Christmas morning.
The Bottom Line
Before Apple announced the iPad Mini, I was prepared to tell everyone to go buy one. I expected either a retina display or a deeply discounted tablet with cheaper hardware. At $200, I would have been first in line. However, at $330, it's priced just $60 the still in-stock iPad 2, and you can still use the massive supply of old charging accessories.
At this point, I say either buy a full size iPad (and I have one. They're very nice.) or wait a year for the iPad Mini 2 that will no doubt be more competitive in terms of hardware features. If you want a great tablet for a cheap price, go with the Nexus 7.