Three things you REALLY need to know about iPad mini

The Apple iPad is the best-selling tablet by quite some margin, but with increasing competition from the likes of Google and Microsoft, its dominance could be under threat. Although the company could (and likely will) make some minor improvements to the iPad at some point -- making it thinner, boosting the camera, and finding a way to reduce its core temperature, for example -- it needs to come up with new variations if it wants to stay on top.

That means going large and producing a ‘MacPad’, which would essentially be a touchscreen, keyboard-less version of the Macbook Air (bringing it into direct competition with Microsoft Surface), or going small, and finally introducing the much rumored iPad mini.

Tech journos have been talking about an iPad mini for close to two years now, with rumors really gaining pace over the past few weeks (I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple itself wasn’t the source of some of the stories, seeing how they’ve surfaced so close to Google’s announcement of the Nexus 7). With so many people talking about it, and with so many specs floating about, surely it has to be a reality, right? Well, let’s look at what we know.

1. What will the iPad mini be like?

Everyone agrees the new iPad will be a 7-inch device, like the Kindle Fire or Nexus 7, with a 7.85-in screen and offering a resolution of 1024 x 768. The reduced resolution will allow existing iPad apps to be scaled down without problems, and offer a point of difference between the two tablets. It will likely be a lot thinner than the existing iPad, probably more like the iPod touch 4G, and could well look like a scaled up iPod Nano, again to differentiate it. Expect it to be available in smaller capacities, starting at 8GB, and be powered by a decent processor, like the dual-core A5X SoC.

2. When will I be able to buy one?

Well, assuming it even exists, of course, it’s likely to be released in the United States and United Kingdom this September, in time for Christmas. While it could be priced to compete directly with the Nexus 7, I’d expect it to retail for more. Even with reduced specs, Apple wouldn’t want to go too low. The company has a reputation for producing quality products so would want to position it as “affordable” rather than “cheap”.

It’s unlikely to be called the iPad mini when launched either. Expect it to have a more Apple-sounding name, like the iPad play, iPad go or even iPad air. Some pundits have suggested it could be called the iPad nano, but that would be a better name for a retooled iPod touch.

3. So does it even exist?

Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs dismissed the idea of a smaller iPad in 2010: “One naturally thinks that a 7-inch screen would offer 70 per cent of the benefits of a 10in screen. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. … The reason we [won't] make a 7-inch tablet isn’t because we don’t want to hit [a lower] price point, it’s because we think the screen is too small to express the software”. He also said, far more scathingly, “The 7-inch tablets are tweeners: too big to compete with a smartphone, and too small to compete with an iPad".

But a lot has happened to the market in two years, and with a new CEO at the helm, it’s almost inevitable that Apple will bring out a 7-inch tablet, and soon. Not to compete, but to ensure it stays far ahead of its rivals. The fear that a smaller iPad could cannibalize the sales of the full-sized model are rather irrelevant now. Apple would rather eat into its own market share than have Google, Samsung or Amazon do it.

So what do you think? Can we expect to see a 7in iPad soon? And, if so, what features would you like it to have?

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