Will 2012 bring an Apple iPad Mini?

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It’s really difficult to get into the mind of Apple. Every release of every product seems incredibly calculated and perfectly timed.

Take the iPhone 4S, for example. While much of the world expected the release of the iPhone 5, the 4S was clearly targeted at iPhone 3GS users with their 24-month contract coming to an end. I suspect the iPhone5 will be released just before the 24-month contracts of current iPhone 4 users end.

It seems, then, that 2011 was a year of mediocre releases for Apple, with the iPad2, the iPhone4S and only some minor changes to the Macbook range. Nothing new to excite the “Fanbois”.

So what will 2012 bring us?
It seems then that 2012 will need to be a year of “shake-up” for Apple as users have become more and more accustomed to extraordinary product releases and won’t stay patient with minor updates.

Rumours have been flying around the web since the launch of the iPhone 4S that Apple is busy toying with the idea of a smaller iPad — an iPad Mini if you will. These rumours have been precipitated by Apple receiving samples of 7.85″ screens from both AU Optronics and LG Display.

An iPad Mini would certainly tackle Kindle’s new Fire head-on. Kindle is selling the unit at US$199, and so a Mini version of the iPad could fill a market gap for people still uncomfortable with the iPad’s US$499 price-tag.

Couple this with rumours that Steve Jobs had been working on an Apple iTV for some time and the release of Siri on the iPhone 4S, it could very well be that the iPad Mini fits in perfectly with the idea of a multi-functional media device and remote for all things Apple.

Another thing to consider is the ailing sales of the iPod touch. First released in 2008, it has sold well over 60-million units worldwide, but sales have steadily been declining and a newer, fresher-looking iPad Mini would certainly fill the hole left behind should Apple can the iPod touch.

But does the world really need a smaller iPad?
Steve Jobs famously jibed competitor tablets (think Samsung Galaxy Tab) for its smaller screen, saying that 10 inches was the minimum needed for a functional tablet.

The rumoured screen resolution for the 7″ screen will be the same as the existing iPad2, which means that Apps designed for the iPad would work with no problem on the Mini version — except of course, you’d need to have incrementally thinner fingers, as the space on the screen may reduce the iPad Mini to being completely unusable. This in itself may stop Apple from releasing a Mini version.

Let’s also consider that the existing iPad models constitute 68% of the market segment worldwide, and 97% of data traffic via Tablet has come from iPads. With HP declaring defeat just six weeks after launching its tablet product, and Samsung’s hard-core world-wide marketing of its Galaxy Tab range over the course of 2011, the “threats” to Apple domination certainly have more bark than bite.

So where does that leave us?
If history is to be any indication, Apple will be completely unpredictable and yet, I believe, there is a little room for speculation.

I somehow don’t see Apple as the kind of company that “develops to compete” with competitors like Samsung and Kindle. It’s more the type of company that will set a trend.

If it chooses to build an iPad Mini, I suspect it would be rather to replace the iPod touch segment of the market. It certainly wouldn’t be to attack the position created by the Kindle Fire or the Galaxy Tab, which has always been an Apple-Wannabe.

2012 will be an interesting year for Apple. It needs to prove that it can remain innovative without Steve Jobs at the helm and create market-segments we could never dream of.

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