"The 7in tablets are tweeners, too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with an iPad," Steve Jobs once said, dismissing the form factor. Tweeners have proven to be a powerful market, though, whether it's in the leagues of Justin Bieber fans or the aforementioned tablets.
The 7in tablet space is small but filling up – and selling out – quickly. The Nexus 7 could reach sales of 8 million units this year, according to Tech-thoughts.net, and Amazon’s recently released Kindle Fire HD is set to blaze through the holidays.
Though Steve Jobs called the form factor "dead on arrival," the Apple versus Samsung trial shows that his feelings about that weren't as strong as his words. With product decisions now left to Tim Cook, who as a former supply guy also knows an opportunity when he sees it, a 7in “iPad mini” is a near-certainty to be launched later today.
Despite its presupposed popularity, is the iPad mini necessary? That depends entirely on the user. Given a choice between what's essentially the same device in three different screen sizes – the iPad (10in), the iPad mini (7in), and the iPod Touch (4in) – customers would do well to estimate how they'll ration out the time they spend on a device before they rationalise their purchase decision.
They should also consider processor power. The iPad mini is not anticipated to match the capability of the current full-size iPad (or whatever refreshed iPad is released along with the mini). In all likelihood, the iPad mini's internal specs will be closest to those of the iPad 2.
Then there's price. There will be market pressure for the iPad mini to stay near the truly budget £159 price tag of the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD, yet the 32GB iPod Touch costs £249; so it remains to be seen how Apple will balance and justify the prices of its line-up.
Also, connectivity should be taken into account. The iPod Touch is Wi-Fi-only, while the iPad can also be had in 3G. The iPad mini will probably come in Wi-Fi and 3G versions.
With that in mind, let’s forge ahead and look at the top potential tablet uses, and our picks for what iDevice is best in each case.
Film and TV show streaming apps have shrunk expectations about acceptable sizes for movie and television screens. Bigger is still better, though, making the iPad the best bet here. Additionally, the iPad has a faster processor and it comes in 3G-enabled models, letting users stream away from Wi-Fi hotspots (say, on a commute). iPod Touch users have to wait for Wi-Fi but they can watch content downloaded to their devices, or take out their iPhones and lose some valuable battery life while edging towards their data cap. The iPad mini would, presumably, have the optional 3G arrangement its bigger brother has, making it the choice for those who want to watch on the go, while the iPad would be more of a homebody.
Apple's renaissance began with the iPod, and the device is still the most popular music player out there. But is the iPod Touch necessarily the top option for music aficionados? Undisputedly, if the device in question is often going to be used like an MP3 player to play stored songs wherever its user roams.
Music streaming apps such as Spotify need either Wi-Fi or 3G to work, so listeners heavily dependent on those services while on the road would have to rely on their iPhone. If the device is mostly going to reside at home or at work and primarily perform other functions, then it's not a consideration. There's little to virtually no difference in speaker systems or in using AirPort Express.
For reading of any type, an iPod Touch is the poorest choice, though all three choices have (or in the case of the iPad mini, would have) e-reading apps in the form of iBooks, Nook, Kindle, and others. An iPad mini would make for the most natural e-reader, given its assumed size, since many e-readers have 7in screens. Still, it's not an optimal size for reading full digital editions of magazines. While magazine-reading apps such as Zinio will work on all devices and have different viewing options, the iPad is the clear winner for the new (Retina-enhanced) glossies.
The games users like to play are the determining factor in what size screen suits them, but generally, the bigger size (and retina resolution) of the iPad is what you want. Certainly, board game aficionados would do well to choose the iPad, as would those who like strategy games and shooters.
However, our software expert Jeff Wilson notes that with driving games, the virtual controls are often too far apart on the iPad and too close together on the iPod Touch, meaning the upcoming iPad mini should be the comfiest ride.
The larger the window, the more fun window shopping can be. So it's no surprise that the iPad wins out for shopping. While there are plenty of shopping apps that are great at any size, it's nice not to have to pinch to zoom to see details on items. iPad users spend more time and money shopping, with iPhone and iPod Touch users trailing but still ahead of other tablets.
The iPad is not only a good size for use in the kitchen, but there are also plenty of accessories to enhance its usefulness (like the Belkin Chef Stand and Stylus) and keep it safe. The same isn't true for the iPod Touch. However, the Touch is the perfect companion for consulting shopping lists on supermarket trips, a feature that many apps have built in. If an iPad mini steps in to offer up its services as a sous chef, it would be hired on the spot since it could go from supermarket to kitchen.
While mobile-friendly sites have become far more common since the iPad became popular, they're still best viewed on an iPad. Surfing sites on a Touch isn’t so good, with experiences ranging from the fairly pleasant to more painful, eye-straining episodes. That makes the iPad the big kahuna and the iPad mini and iPod Touch mere recreational surfers.
Microsoft, maker of the most-used work applications, has now brought its creations to the iPad. Even before that, though, iPad owners had iWork at their disposal. The iPad, with its many keyboard accessories and large screen which is viewable without squinting, is the most work-friendly choice. The iPad mini and iPod Touch are best left to checking up on work emails.
Photo fiends will have to choose between looking ridiculous or taking sharper photos. Wielding an iPad or even an iPad mini for a shot is largely impractical, but the iPod Touch, on the other hand, is palm-sized and can always be handy. However, one advantage of both iPads is that they can update digital photo frames, serving up impressive photo slideshows anywhere they go.
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