Apple is currently rolling out some new products in San Francisco. So far, we've seen a new MacBook Pro and a thinner and sexier iteration of the iMac, which is just another word for "planned obsolescence" in Apple-land.
But the main event is yet to come: A smaller iPad, about 8 inches in size, called "iPad Mini."
Unlike the iPhone 5, which prior to launch I argued was doomed — DOOMED! — the iPad Mini/Air/Junior/Deuce/Whatever could succeed wildly. Here's why...
Apple owns the tablet market, so it's no big deal to steal share from itself. Apple has sold 100 million iPads in the two years since its introduction. As I and others have pointed out, there is no tablet market. There's an iPad market. However, since the arrival of the Kindle Fire and now the Microsoft Surface, there is some pressure on Cupertino. iPad Mini naysayers argue that a smaller, cheaper tablet will cannibalize the Big Boy. Probably true. But the thing is, Apple can afford to cannibalize the iPad, with a base iPad Mini that's $329 in the 16 GB WiFi-only version. And if it steals some lower-end market share from Amazon ... well, there's nothing wrong with that.
The iPad as a franchise is ultimately more important to Apple than the iPhone. It is only a matter of time before the iPhone, which accounts for the bulk of Apple's profits, loses its extreme specialness and get disrupted by either something new that Apple didn't invent or by commodity smartphones that do all the things that the iPhone does but arrive on a brisker schedule of updates (iPhone users have to wait two years between devices). Meanwhile, Apple is on a trajectory to shed the PC business at some point and move toward an all-in strategy with consumer products that could — could — include an Apple iTV. Apple doesn't sell a lot of desktops and laptops, but the ones it does sell, it sells in several configurations. Even the good old iPod comes in multiple versions. If the future of "computing" for what used to be Apple Computer is tablets, then it needs to sell iPads that mirror the product diversity, limited though it is, that Apple has offered with other lines.
The iPad Maxi is actually uncomfortably ... big. Steve Jobs was right that a 10-inch tablet is the right size for awesome tablet-ness. Unfortunately, the iPad has always been a bit un-awesome to hold like a book or magazine. Amazon Kindle e-readers love that svelte little sucker for a reason. It is a lot easier to curl up with a Kindle Fire than it is to snuggle with an iPad. Also, the iPad doesn't exactly sit unobtrusively in a backpack or briefcase. It occupies as much space as a MacBook Air, and it doesn't have a keyboard. Apple needed something smaller and lighter to "fix" what little was wrong with the iPad. Reduction yields perfection.
Apple is likely to sell a lot of iPads this holiday season, so its timing is perfect for the iPad Mini. Anyone who was 'kinda sorta' thinking about a Kindle Fire HD or Android tablet now has an Apple product that is priced fairly competitively. Consumers will be asking the question: Wouldn't I really rather have an iPad Mini?