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

Instant translation – no longer sci-fi

Automated translation is no longer the stuff of sci-fi fiction, since Skype launched a beta version of its Translator service.

Read full article

More on This Story

More from Rory


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 113.


    I'd place myself in a "maybe on day" category.

    I'll have a look at the tablet market when I retire my Amilo Li 1705 laptop next year but I think I'll conclude that another laptop is best solution for me.

  • Comment number 112.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Aren't tablets a bit old hat?

    Hasn't everyone who wanted one at least tried one?

    I find typing on one appalling unless I have a keyboard - and then what's the point of a tablet?

    I do concede that a mobile phone can be handy when it is carried by a friend to look thing up for you, but smart phones are just too big and bulky, let alone tablets to bother with myself!

    Need something better!

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    At the end of the day, why are you all getting so uptight? It's just another tablet. Just another piece of tech.

    Why do you have to make it a personal attack? I am so fed up with being told that I'm an idiot for not buying what the bully-boy geeks tell me I should buy. Surely no better than being told what to buy by the manufacturer? You don't like Apple? Fine. Don't buy Apple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Our business are using the the iPad in very productive ways its simply not true they are not business tools. However the real revelation of the Apple launch fest yesterday that the BBC have failed to properly report is the new iMac. It may not be the most powerful desktop computer but it will do 99% of most tasks very well in a very sleek package, well done Apple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Yes, Black_And_Proud @90, it is rather pathetic how the industry decides that there are only two valid sizes for a sceeen - 7" & 10".

    I can appreciate why you would want something A4-ish. I would like something A5-ish. For me, 10" is too big and 7" to small

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    I think Jonathan (@17) describes the situation well enough. Tablets are media consumption devices and little more than that.

    When my next upgrade comes it will still be for my PC which is far superior in computational power than any other consumer device that I know of. Tablets are good for casual users, but anyone who needs to do some serious work will probably head for their desktop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Re: 104.Tom Nicholas

    It's "damp squib", not squid. I think all squid are damp though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    With regard to Apple having a closed system then that isn't an issue if there is competition, if on the other hand Apple persists in trying to litigate the free Android O/S out of the market (with the help of Microsoft) then both should be severely sanctioned. Would I buy a tablet from a convicted monopolist or a company that takes control freak to new levels - NO

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    100M iPads sold in the last 2 and a half years! (at "premium" prices too) + 90% of tablet web traffic! If this growth was just from 'branding' the iPad would have been a damp squid by now! But I guess are we just like sheep who'll buy anything as long as it's got an Apple logo on it? Real competition (Microsoft Windows 8!!!) - I guess we'll find out, when MS's Surface is released (this Friday?)

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    I think in this case, it's because every technophobe thinks that all tablets are called "iPad".
    I convinced my parents into a Nexus 7, and my father still refers to it as "the iPad".
    Why? advertising and social media......

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    C'mon Rory! You know the real comparison is the 32Gb Nexus 7 strongly rumoured for Monday @£199. Waasaaaap? Apple got your tongue?

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    I think Rory's comments are always a fair reflection on what is actually going on in the market. If he mentions Apple a lot it's because they are outselling everybody else. For those who like to pin their colours to a particular mast remember as consumers there is huge choice out there. If you don't like one device or platform there's at least two others you can choose from.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Microsoft were cained by the EU for bundling internet explorer in with windows and not throwing it open. I simply cannot understand why Apple are left to rape everyone's pockets through itunes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Ok, tablets are the way ahead, right. So who in the market are we forgetting? BlackBerry! Clearly a lot of research, but how can they be forgotten? BlackBerry are leading the way in the mobile market. Why is it only now a good idea to have a smaller tablet? I think the above article needs to be reasoned, complete and impartial. It seems these qualities have been left at the door!

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    It's amazing the journalistic bias Apple receives on this site. A new Apple product and BLAM! Headline news. And if another product has a story you can guarantee at the bottom of the article it will be compared to an Apple product! Don't believe? Go back and read some of the stories! And negative Apple stories? Not straight away, only sometime later. Whereas Android MS etc? Biased to the max.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Apple are turning into the Audi of the computing world. If there is a micro niche that is not being exploited, then simply reclad something and call it a revelation. I'm sick of it. I used to enjoy technology, which is why I chose to work in IT, now it's all the same and dull.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Tablets will never have the computing power of a PC when it comes to serious number-crunching - such as counting the number of times Rory Cellan-Jones mentions Apple in an article.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Apple need to loosen their grip on the ability to get data on to and off the iPad. No USB, having to use iTunes or the Web for everything and no folder structure meaning that when you remove an app, the data you've created with that app goes along with it - how business friendly is that? Personally I can't wait for a proper tablet e.g. the Surface......

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    81. Birchy
    4G is coming. When it arrives cloud drives will be the norm. Probably you will be using software directly on a remote server for many things as the latency will be negligible.
    I already use web based software for many things and most producers are now moving towards that model. Witness Microsoft Office Online, Google docs etc. Chrome has many apps that are wrappers for cloud apps.


Page 1 of 6



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.