Chris and I watched the iPad mini event today on our departmental Apple TV. It only occurred to us belatedly that we should have made it an open event for anyone wishing to attend in room LL-111. But then, you never know. Sometimes the events are chock full of meaningful new products and insights into Apple’s ongoing strategies, and other times they are a lot of noise about not much. Today’s event was more the former. The big news was the iPad Mini—about which more below—but there were significant announcements related to the iBook app and store, Macbook, iMac, and a surprise announcement of a fourth generation iPad. All in time for Christmas.
Rumored tie-ins to education for today’s product announcements were more rumor than reality. The new iBook store is not quite ready. My iBook app was not functioning correctly an hour after the announcement (category view was not available), and a search on textbooks brought up a lot of study guides and not much in the way of substantive titles. This has been my experience with Apple textbook content all along. Authors who own Macs, with iAuthor software, and willing to publish in the iBook store do not seem to be especially numerous, or are slow in completing their projects. Title availability is limited, and much of it aimed at the K-12 market. There is a reason that Apple is still using that E. O. Wilson demo book to illustrate iBooks so long after its initial introduction.
The iPad Mini, on the other hand, holds a lot of promise for the here and now, both in education and in extending the iPad’s dominance within the culture at large. Pre-orders will begin this Friday, October 26, not accidentally the official release date of the Microsoft Surface tablet PC and Windows 8. It feels like Apple is just rubbing it in at this point.
The two most significant questions about the Mini were: 1) would it be a stripped or dumbed-down version of the iPad—no, it is fully as functional; and 2) what would it cost—$329 for the 16GB wifi model. Here, in a chart taken from Mashable, is how the iPad Mini stacks up against the base feature set of its 7″ form-factor competitors:
The Fire, Nexus and Nook while being true Android tablets are heavily customized to be consumption devices for their respective infrastructures: Amazon, the Google Play Store, and Barnes and Noble; the last most definitely suffering by comparison. The Galaxy Tab is another good Android tablet, without tight infrastructure integration. While Apple is not the same sort of book vendor as Amazon, it is a significant music and movie vendor, and in addition it has the world’s largest catalog of apps, all of which the iPad Mini can execute as well as the full-sized iPad.
I have never heard anyone say ‘My tablet is just too slow,’ so processor speed is not a real issue. Therefore, it seems to me, the choice as to which tablet to purchase as a Christmas gift, say, comes down to 1) price; and 2) which infrastructure you want to tie into. Once you understand that you can install reading apps for the various book infrastructures on any of the tablets, it really comes down to 1) price; and 2) apps. You have to give the nod to Apple for having the best, most complete, best integrated apps catalog. Elegant is the word to describe their infrastructure, beside which the various Android integrations all look cobbled together and limited. So the final question is, is Apple elegance worth the extra $130. To me it is. But of course opinions will vary widely.