Tablets take centre stage

iPad mini launch

In a hectic year, the tectonic plates of technology are shifting again. In the space of a few days, three giants of this industry - Apple, Microsoft and Google - are holding major product launches, and it is tablets which are centre stage.

Apple kicked things off last night with what had been billed the iPad mini event, but turned out to be a rather larger scale "refresh" of the range than expected, with updated desktop and laptop computers, and a fourth version of the full-size iPad.

One notable feature was that both the MacBook Pro and the new iMac came without a DVD/CD drive. Apple has decided that, in the days of pulling your content down from the cloud, physical media have had their day - whether you like it or not.

There will be grumbling, but I suspect its instincts are correct.

However, it was the iPad mini which was the main course, the only product that was really new - if you count becoming smaller as a real leap forward.

"There is nothing as amazing as this!" declaimed the marketing chief Phil Schiller with typical understatement.

That said, the iPad must count as one of the most groundbreaking innovations of recent years. Apple's Tim Cook boasted that 100 million had been sold in just two and a half years, and the tablet was now outselling not just every PC, but the entire range of any PC-maker.

That is some shift in consumer behaviour in a short period - and as we know other companies have rushed to imitate the iPad, though with limited impact on its market share.

The most successful rivals have been the 7in (17.8cm) Android tablets - in particular the Google Nexus and the Kindle Fire. They have combined decent performance with very keen pricing - but their biggest success has been in provoking Apple to change its mind.

For Steve Jobs insisted that 10in (25.4cm) was the minimum size for a tablet. He was talking about the screen size necessary to display useful apps but he may have also had in mind the juicy margins Apple was getting on the bigger device.

There were big dangers for the company in pricing the iPad mini - make it too cheap and it could cannibalise the lucrative sales of its big brother, too expensive and it could flop against the competition from Google and Amazon.

Before we got to the price, Phil Schiller launched a pretty direct attack on a rival device. Placing a picture of the Google Nexus 7 alongside the iPad mini, he went through their specifications - the iPad's screen size was not so mini, 30% bigger than the Nexus, the overall experience on one was "great", on the other "not so great".

Ah, but when we got to the price, it was clear you paid for that extra real estate. It starts at £269 for the 16GB version, compared to £199 for the Google Nexus, with Amazon's Kindle Fire HD even cheaper at £159.

That looks expensive - but we mustn't underestimate the sheer power of the iPad brand. Apple says 90% of all web traffic from a tablet is from an iPad right now - and those hundred million users out there surfing on trains and in cafes are a great marketing resource for the mini. I'm sure it will sell well to people who wanted but couldn't quite afford the full-size version - the big question is whether that comes at the expense of the new fourth generation iPad.

And there's more competition about to arrive. The Surface - the new tablet from Microsoft - is on sale on Friday. More on this later, but it looks quite an impressive addition to the high-end professional end of the market. And then next Monday Google holds an Android event, with talk of a 10in Nexus.

Tablets, big and small, are crowding out the PC, with sales of personal computers down 8% on a year ago. In 2010 when the iPad was launched many mocked it as a plaything - but Apple, Google and even Microsoft believe the future of their industry is tablet-shaped, so getting the right offer in front of consumers is a very serious business.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    No dvd drive? No laptops come nowadays with a floppy disc drive. Sony said some years ago they were no longer needed. When some bright spark of a reporter asked what was their best selling accessory, a red-faced Sony spokesman admitted that it was a USB-Floppy plug in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Apple mostly get things right. We'll see on this one.

    But they are no longer a cool challenger brand, but a dominant player. Their share price means they cannot afford any mistakes. Most of the snide comments here are from tribal techies, who hate the fact that Apple created the playing field for so many products.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    It's Microsoft PC vs Apple Mac again.

    Apple makes &/ popularises many of the initial advances (then: mouse, UI; now: apps & tablets) but enforces restrictions, fine provided you do things the way Apple want. No 3rd party options mean £££.

    PC platform was more flexible and cheaper, but its openness meant set-up and security issues (ultimately manageable).

    Google Android is the new MS DOS!

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    At the moment, tablets don't quite match the desktop when it comes to web browsing and all its associated bells and whistles.I've had an Android 10.1 inch tablet from Asus since May of 2011,and web browsing can be infuriating sometimes,so there is still massive room for improvement.As for the Apple 7incher, it's too expensive,but will sell a lot this christmas, or else Apple shares are going down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    I'd never by anything Apple related. - Don't like iOS,

    Apple know how to brainwash people with flash marketing when in reality the products are mediocre at best and you're locked into what Apple say you can do with your hardware.

    Android offers an open system that you can customise to do what you want and install what you want. You can even connect it to a PC without having to use iTunes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Tablets are ok for those who insist on having Net access while on the move, but you can't beat a proper desktop, with a good wide, clear screen and a keyboard large enough to handle your fingertips. Desktops have disk-drives and bags of hard-drive space. Tablets relying on cloud means you have to upload all your stuff there, which may not be very secure; any more than wi-fi is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    At nearly twice the price of its direct competitors Apple’s tabs may suffer the same fate as its PC, virtual extinction by rivals who follow more open technical standards to grow the market away from propriety systems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    For those complaining about the lack of a CD/DVD drive. Try sitting back and actually thinking. When was the last time you actually NEEDED one?

    You still get USB ports on the macbook, even if you aren't competent enough to use your cloud or wifi to transfer your data.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I'd never buy anything Google related. - Don't like Android,

    Apple know how to make fantastic user experience. Meaning you get what you pay for in software .... android and google cobble together crap and expect to sell it (open software)

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    In fact, the ipad mini is even worse value compared to the Nexus 7 than stated. If the author had done his homework, he would know that a 32GB Nexus 7 is incoming next week, and will be priced at £199. The 16GB will shuffle down to somewhere around £160 - over £100 cheaper than the apple product. Still...fools and their money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    The ipad mini will sell to those who care more about brand than spec, but with a lower resolution screen not able to display 720p video, a dual core chip and less gpu horsepower than the nexus at 35% higher price, I can't see that it would attract anyone else.

    When their comparison can only focus on abstracts like user experience you know that they have nothing on paper to compete with google.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    The suits at Amazon & Google must be breathing a sigh of relief this morning. All the rumours had the iPad mini starting at £200.00, putting it in Kindle Fire HD & Nexus 7 territory. But no, apple had to put a hefty price premium on what is essentially a 'budget' iPad. With Christmas coming, will the cheaper & excellent Kindle Fire HD (£159.00) and Nexus 7 (£189.99) sway buyers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.



  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    I'm typing this on my refurbished[1] Dell Latitude x300 laptop. I usually run under Puppy Linux (a real OS) so am not at the mercy of Windoz. When my x300 is too old I'll have worked out the best second hand hardware to move on to. So please don't let me stop you buying the latest tablet for xmas, I need you to test my future hardware.

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    So, essentially this is Apple eating humble pie and admitting that smaller tablets have not only carved-out their own niche, but were likely to eclipse Apple's own with Amazon and Google offering a shop-in-a-tablet.

    Maybe next year they'll tout an i-pen for your ipad that allows you to i-scribble?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    I think Apple have missed a trick. The width of the gadget is too big for many jacket pockets, so for most who are man bag adverse (like me), its not portable enough.

    My other point is how all the comparisons are against the Nexus 7 and Kindle. But it's not a budget tablet, it's an upmarket one. Surely the true competition is the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7. I would like to see a comparison!

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Radical new development ...

    Diary, pencil, meeting people face-to-face, public call boxes, less eye problems and cutting down sweatshop tech-labour ... oh and eating an apple (russet or cox pippin)

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Tablets are going to be the #1 must-have Xmas gift this year.

    Numbers in use are set to rise dramatically, and that will push demand for public wi-fi.

    I find more and more that I want web access whilst away from my laptop, and that a smartphone is too fiddly.
    So tablet(s) look the way to go.

    But then do I need a smartphone any more?
    I'm tempted to move back to an ultra-compact old phone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Apple used to be the company that graphic designers and music producers went to in order to obtain machines that handled graphics beautifully and recorded like a dream... Now they are a company of graphic designers that make flashy toys for people with more money than sense. Shame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    @10. 5ecret

    Yes, you don't see this vitriol between, say, Ford and Toyota owners.
    But the truth is that several tech companies actually pay people to come on forums like this and attack their rivals. It's a form of "astro-turfing" (i.e. fake "grassroots" instead of real "grassroots"). Marketing at its most insidious and evil. Still, easily spotted, and best ignored.


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