With the calendar fast ticking down to the holiday selling season, Apple is ready to counter Amazon and others on the budget tablet front, with reports suggesting the near-mythical iPad Mini is now in production. But, beyond price, what can Apple do to make it appeal to those not in the iOS family?
The War for the Consumer
When Apple first launched the iPhone, the initial rush of buyers were mostly geeks, tech-heads and those in the IT world. That didn't last long as the consumer discovered the delights of iOS and sent sales of successive models through the roof.
The iPad came into the market and was instantly a hit with the higher-end consumer. But, it is still a pricey bit of technology and not a device to be treated lightly. Amazon saw that gap and thrust the Kindle Fire upon the market, as the tablet for everyone else, selling content afterwards to create a very long tail and generate profit over time.
While Apple's iPad is great for content consumption and creation, there is a huge market that are happy with just consuming, and keeping the family entertained or the children quiet. Apple will target that market with iPad Mini (or whatever it will eventually be called).
Keeping the Price Down and the Content Up
In this endeavour, Apple needs to keep the price down as much as possible, so we now have word from Asia that production is beginning on a tablet without a Retina-class display. True or not, simply reducing the screen size by a couple of inches and lowering the density won't be enough to halve the cost.
While Apple has the bargaining power to drive chip and parts costs down, that can only take it so far. So, what would you like in a dinky iPad, less memory or no cell connection, no shiny metal surfaces or any of the other things that could be cut? After all, if the cost is just a bit less than a current iPad, what is the point? We're already seeing component images leaking around the web, so these arguments should be solved pretty soon.
Another area Apple will also need to jazz up is its presentation style, if it is to appeal to a new level of consumer. They don't care about processor power, 4G or "it just works." They want content, content and more content, cheaper, faster and better. Apple's placid adverts had better ramp things up a notch.
Will Apple take the opportunity of a revamped iTunes to offer multiple accounts, easier parental control, new content bundle deals and subscriptions. Certainly, the track-by-track method of music buying is hopelessly antiquated, will Apple manage a Spotify-like deal with the record companies or something new to wow content consumers with?
Time to Play the Music, Time to Light the Lights
That brings us to the usual Apple "big show," invites are supposed to go out next week for an event on 17 October, with an early November launch of the new tablet. If Tim Cook and cronies stand there droning on about the same stuff they have at every other iPad event, then they are missing the point, and a big trick.
If ever there was a time for Apple to forget its usual reserve (playing in the Foo Fighters after the event doesn't count), this it it. In an (well, my) ideal world, Apple would open the show with Linkin Park, have J K Rowling read an extract from her latest non-Harry Potter book, and get Daniel Craig and cast to act out a high-octane scene from Skyfall live on stage. Then, we close with Michael Jordan dunking one through a hoop to test its strength while Psy dances Gangnam Style with the 49ers' defensive line.
That would get Apple a few million headlines in places it normally doesn't, appeal to a huge swathe of the world's pop culture loving folk and put the new iPad on a very different axis to Apple's current line-up. Here's hoping!
There is little doubt iPad Mini will sell as many as Apple can make, but that won't be a true measure of its success. This baby needs to all over the world, in the press, in the public's mind wherever they go, to prove that Apple can appeal to everyone, not just the regular upgraders and existing Appleites.