Today Apple introduced its much-rumored iPad mini, which comes with enough features to complicate the tablet purchase process for enterprise customers.
The iPad mini looks and acts just like the larger iPad. For the most part, iOS applications should run well on both. However, enterprises that have produced their own apps specifically for the 9.7-inch iPad will need to examine whether their navigation controls and other features will be large enough on the iPad mini. Also, apps that present lots of highly detailed information with charts and graphs might need to be tweaked for the smaller screen.
The iPad mini measures 7.87" x 5.3" x 0.28" and weighs 0.68 pounds. The screen's resolution is 1,024 x 768 (same as the old iPad 2) at 163 pixels per inch (ppi). The 9.7-inch iPad, which was upgraded slightly today, sports its same Retina display of 2,048 x 1,536 at 264 ppi and weighs 1.44 pounds.
The mini comes in WiFi-only or WiFi plus cellular (with LTE). The WiFi-only prices are $329 for 16GB, $429 for 32GB, and $529 for 64GB. The WiFi plus cellular version costs $459 for 16GB, $559 for 32GB, and $659 for $659. The WiFi version will be available for purchase Nov. 2.
Viewing certain corporate apps and Web pages in general might be a bit more difficult on the mini, but its lighter weight and smaller size will make reading e-books and text documents easier. Those two features also make the mini a better choice in certain vertical markets, especially those that already have iPad apps.
Any employee who frequently carries a tablet might prefer the mini. Doctors, nurses, and technicians could slip it into the pocket of a lab coat or a uniform instead of carrying the larger iPad or any 10-inch tablet.
The profusion of software -- 275,000 iPad-optimized apps and more than 700,000 iOS apps -- is one of the best reasons for sticking with the Apple ecosystem. The mini's starting price of $329 is another reason, but it's not a killer price that will sweep away all competition.
Google's seven-inch Nexus 7 tablet, for instance, is an extremely good device that features the pure Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) operating system and costs $199 for 8GB and $249 for 16GB. Android doesn't offer as many tablet-optimized apps as iOS, but the cost and variety of Android tablets are reasons enterprises should consider them, especially when teamed with Android phones and Google Apps for Business.
Enterprises have a number of alternatives to the iPad to consider. Tablets running Microsoft's Windows RT operating system are due at the end of this month from Microsoft and its partners, such as Dell. These tablets can run only third-party Modern UI (i.e., Metro) apps and those that Microsoft bundles, such as Office Home & Student 2013 RT. There should be thousands of Modern UI apps available at the launch, but they probably won't include many used by enterprises. Moreover, enterprises wanting to use Windows RT tablets will have to recode their corporate apps for the new interface. But for Windows-based enterprises, it still will be easier to code for Windows RT than to start from scratch with iOS or Android.
The entry price for Windows RT tablets, such as the upcoming Dell XPS 10, will be about $500 for 32GB. That's less expensive than the 9.7-inch iPad with 32GB, but it doesn't include an optional external keyboard, which has been a hallmark of these tablets, especially the upcoming Microsoft Surface. Tablets featuring Windows 8 Pro, which runs both Modern UI and Windows 7 apps, won't be available until January and will cost more than Windows RT products.
Many enterprises will need to compare Apple against at least one other major contender in the tablet area: Research in Motion. Its BlackBerry PlayBook has been a dud. Handsets with the new BlackBerry 10 operating system won't be available until the next quarter, and its applications have languished. But RIM has 80 million subscribers, and many enterprises will want to wait at least several months to see the new products.
The upshot is that the iPad mini is just one more choice, though a strong one, that enterprises will have to evaluate when determining their computing strategies.
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