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Apple’s iPad Mini: The first mobile tablet?

Tobias Dengel

Tobias Dengel is CEO of WillowTree Apps

By Tobias Dengel

When Apple introduced the iPad Mini on Oct. 24, pundits and analysts were not impressed. Talk is of Apple lacking “real innovation” and the stock has given back more than 20 percent. The thinking seems to be that shrinking down the iPad is not that impressive, especially given Apple’s track record of product launches.

Somehow lost in the discussion is that Apple has already sold 3 million of these 7.9-inch devices, blowing away any previous tablet launch – yes, including all the previous iPads.  

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No, this type of tablet is not the first of its kind, but Apple's release may mark the beginning of significant growth in the 7-inch tablet market. The implications for those of us deploying tablet experiences are potentially significant, as these may be the first real “mobile” tablets.

Celling points
In 2011, the Google Mobile Ads Blog reported that few consumers take their tablets with them when they leave the home.

In March 2012, only 6 percent of iPad sessions came from cellular networks. Up until now, it has been safe to assume that the tablet is not truly “mobile” in the same ways as an Android device or iPhone.

However, with the release of iPad Mini, we will see this number of cell tower connections from tablets markedly increase over the next few quarters. The mobile tablet is here.

Assuming that your current tablet application is going to be used primarily in the home or on a stable Wi-Fi connection could result in frustrated users.

If you are not optimizing your data and testing your apps for shaky network connections, you should definitely start.

For example, instead of requiring a 40MB download for a set of high-resolution photos, consider using compressed JPEGs and sending one at a time through a lightweight REST API.

Nobody likes to see the guy in the front row of a concert sporting a 10-inch iPad with its bright glowing screen taking a photo, but the iPad mini will make this type of mobile use more socially acceptable.

Some traditionally mobile use cases, such as check-in or deal/coupon redemption or even snapping a quick photo, will become more viable with a 7-inch tablet.

Instead of removing mobile features from your tablet experience, consider including them when appropriate so mobile tablet users can take full advantage of your product.

Scale, not wail
IPad Mini and tablet apps will scale quite well from 10-inch designs, though how people hold and expect to use the 7-inch tablet is quite different.

For example, the smaller size makes it much easier to comfortably hold in one hand. This should drive designers to consider interaction layouts more similar to an iPhone design, instead of assuming users will hold the device like they would a 10-inch tablet, with two hands.

Another example is that standard split-view layouts will work well in landscape, but may be too thin for optimum readability in portrait mode.

Consider concealing the split-view pane while in portrait mode, and revealing when the user switches to landscape mode.

Generally, app developers should consider the iPad mini and the 7-inch class of tablets as a significant and potentially separate market.  

The use cases will be quite different from the iPad, which spikes in the morning and evening as users consume media at home.  

The iPad Mini may be the device that consumers carry with them everywhere they go. And this may be another device where, years from now, we all realize that Apple got it exactly right.

Tobias Dengel is CEO of WillowTree Apps, a Charlottesville, VA-based mobile application design and development company. Reach him at .

 
Related content: Columns, Tobias Dengel, WillowTree Apps, iPad Mini, Apple, tablets, luxury marketing, luxury, mobile commerce, mobile marketing, mobile advertising, mobile

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