If the relentless rumor machine is correct, Apple may soon release a 7.85-inch iPad Mini with a non-Retina resolution of 1024 x 768. Much of the 10-inch iPad's success can be credited to the 250,000-strong iPad-optimized offerings in the App Store. The lack of those in Google Play is one reason 10-inch Android tablets are struggling to wrestle market share from Apple. Seven-inch Android tablets, like the Nexus 7, and Kindle Fire are faring better than their 10-inch cousins, in large part because how much better they handle smartphone apps.
Big Apps, Small Apps
That begs the question, will Apple kick start the iPad Mini with enlarged iPhone apps or shrunk iPad apps? While Steve Jobs's declaration that 7-inch tablets would be dead on arrival may have been proved wrong, his remark about people needing to sand down their fingers to use them is still relevant. Since, if rumors are true, both devices will offer the same aspect ratio, shrunk apps would look just fine on the Mini. But their usability will be compromised since, as Jobs pointed out, we can't shrink our fingers in proportion to the touch targets. To make things worse, the supposed lack of Retina display means each app's shrunk elements will be less crisp, providing a less than ideal experience. On the other hand, Apple could offer enlarged iPhone apps. But since the aspect ratio of the iPhone and iPad differ, the apps could seem out of proportion, much like iPhone apps installed on the 10-inch iPad. Again, not ideal. Apple may allow both iPhone and iPad apps to be installed on the iPad Mini, but since neither approach is perfect, developers would ultimately have to optimize their products for the device. Optimized apps will offer better functionality and experience than just re-sized smartphone apps.
In the end, the iPad Mini could justify its existence by being the intermediate device both in functionality and size. Yes, all of this means even more work for developers after the iPhone 5's change of screen size. But I suspect the iPad Mini will be as popular as the larger iPad, so the effort will be worthwhile. Once the App Store is populated with apps optimized for the iPad Mini, apps those 7-inch Android tablets may look less enticing. With the right pricing, the Mini could upset the market for smaller tablets -- and the success enjoyed so far by the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire. Image: CNET