Google's Nexus 7 is a powerful, well-priced tablet winning great sales and reviews. Amazon is preparing a new Kindle Fire, while Barnes and Noble has just trimmed the price of the Nook. So, how will the Mini iPad fare when Apple isn't first to market and what can Apple do to sweeten the deal?
Not Just a Mini
The iPad Mini could still be a collective hallucination experienced by the tech world. While we've seen enough parts of an iPhone 5 that you can practically build your own (if you have the right contacts in enough Asian factories) the diet iPad remains a ghostly enigma. Sure, case makers are selling protective add-ons based on the likely size, but that didn't stop them being wrong about last year's abortive iPhone 5 launch.
Even so, working on the assumption that Apple does launch a Mini iPad in September or October, it will place the company in an interesting position, where it won't be the first to market in the category. Also, going on the fairly firm rumor of a 7.85-inch, non-Retina display, at around $200, its rivals will be well entrenched and Apple will lack a killer hardware feature.
Playing the Software/Content Game
Magic is all about misdirection, as any good Magic's Secrets Revealed viewer knows. Despite their best efforts, we see Apple building desirable hardware with one hand, but we rarely hear about the software and services being sneakily dealt with by the other, until the official news and there is plenty Apple could add to iOS 6.
Having concluded that it is in the software arena that the Mini iPad will need to stand out, and after years of rumors, how likely is it that Apple will either finally buy Spotify, or launch a comparable service across all media? That could provide a monstrous amount of content for users and put it on a par with Amazon's hit services.
Or, it could work along the lines of Sony's PlayStation Plus service, offering a curated number of the better quality iOS games, some films and the latest music, all for a monthly subscription. These offerings are key in a market now dominated by content and not technology, and is an area where Apple is lagging behind.
Finally, there's the ever nagging feeling that Apple has a big gaming play up its sleeve, and with Amazon now entering the games developer arena, could Apple follow in some capacity? An iPad Mini would make the ideal unobtrusive console, connected to a big screen via HDMI and played through wireless controllers.
While there are some flamebait headlines doing the rounds based on a recent consumer survey, the iPad Mini will likely do a roaring trade on launch, as the Google Nexus 7 did. But as the Kindle Fire has proved, good content makes the tablet experience, and that's more important to end users than it is to the critics.
If Apple delivers some new compelling opportunity for those who found the full-size iPad too expensive, it could carve out huge amounts of revenue on a monthly basis from those users. Without it, Apple could find the new iPad looking decidedly plain in the view of price-concious consumers. Naturally, these services could be applied to full size tablets, PCs or smartphones, but some limited exclusivity for a mini tablet could give it a useful boost off the launchpad