After seeing Apple launch the iPad Mini today, doubtless, many Android fans were unimpressed. And there are good reasons for that - it wasn't actually that impressive. Not a particularly dazzling display. Fairly old internals. A price tag that, at best, is described as "cheaper than an iPad."
And let's face it, it's really not that attractive as a product, especially by Apple's high standards. It sort of looks like one of the new iPod Touches and an iPhone 5 had a really fat baby.
Regardless, we already know that, barring some sort of unspeakable catastrophe, Apple is going to sell a lot of these things. Many to the Apple-faithful — as always — but also to, well, everyone else that can justify dropping $330 on an entry-level tablet. Can you imagine how many parents are going to think "It's an iPad, but it's $170 less than a regular one? Sold" this holiday season? I can feel the bank accounts being drained already.
But, if you read Android Police, you're probably not one of those people. In fact, you probably have absolutely no intention of buying one. What you are likely interested in is whether or not Apple's made something that will prove a threat to the still-young small-slate Android ecosystem. First, let's compare our two contenders.
The Hardware: So That's What $130 More Buys Me?
I'm not going to lie - I'm not an Apple hater. I'm not going out to buy an iPhone tomorrow, but I'm also not opposed to the idea of owning a piece of iOS hardware (and/or a MacBook) at some point. But I was disappointed with today's iPad Mini announcement on the hardware front.
We'll begin with the displays. The iPad Mini is boasting a 7.9" 1024x768 display, meaning a 4:3 aspect ratio (see: fat iPhone / iPod baby). The Nexus 7 has a 7" 1280x800 panel (16:10). In pixel density and, well, pixels in general, the Nexus 7 does clearly run away with it. But I do know for a fact (as a Nexus 7 owner myself) that the N7 doesn't exactly have the best display ever known to man. The colors aren't great (washed out), and it looks a little... dead. I've yet to see the iPad Mini's display, so I can't comment on that front, but I'd reserve judgment until we see some side-by-sides. More pixels are obviously better, but it's not like we're talking about WVGA vs 720p here. But, if pixels are your concern, the Nexus 7 does definitively take this category.
Internally, things get a little more unclear. The Mini's A5 dual-core processor — from the iPad 2 — is no slouch, and the GPU it's packing is still quite formidable. Looking at the benchmarks, it's likely the iPad Mini will have more hardware horsepower to work with in GPU-intensive applications like gaming and video than the Nexus 7. But it's not like the Mini's A5 chipset is in a whole other league - The Nexus 7's Tegra 3 is at least comparable in many aspects. The A5 certainly isn't $130 better.
In terms of storage, we're all pretty sure at this point that the 16GB version of the Nexus 7 will be dropping to $200, and a new 32GB edition will be introduced at $250. Meanwhile, Apple has kept the same $100 storage increments of the iPad and iPhone for the Mini, which makes comparing the soon-to-be $250 32GB N7 and the $430 32GB iPad Mini quite a laughable exercise. $180 more for a device of comparable internal space? Apple, you crazy.
Moving on, both have front-facing cameras. The Mini's does do 720p video out of the box, though. The iPad Mini also has a 5MP rear camera, so if you're into taking ridiculous self-portraits or looking silly in public, it may be the small tablet for you! Oh, but the Wi-Fi iPad Mini does not have GPS - like its big brother. So that might be a concern.
Physically, the Mini is both thinner and lighter than the N7. When it comes to tablets, I contend this actually is important. Is it (I do love saying this) $130 of important? Eh. The build quality will probably be more confidence-inspiring than the N7, though - mine has begun creaking and groaning of late, something aluminum doesn't have to worry about.
Battery life remains to be seen, but I'm already leaning in the iPad Mini's direction on this one. Apple has historically been the leader in this statistic, and I doubt they suddenly skimped this time. I don't think it'll be a runaway victory, but my Nexus 7's battery life has never been jaw-droppingly good in the first place.
Cellular connectivity goes to the Mini, as well - even if a 3G N7 does come to be, LTE connectivity as an option is simply better (moar gees). Now, the value of a 32GB 3G Nexus 7 ($300-350?) vs. a 32GB 4G iPad Mini ($560)? Well, something tells me that the Wi-Fi 32GB price comparison will look reasonable by comparison.
Coming at these two devices from a strictly hardware standpoint, it's a runaway victory for the Nexus 7 on value alone. You simply can't ignore that you're getting all the Nexus 7 offers for just $200 (soon, likely with 16GB of storage), and if the $250 32GB version comes to pass, the value just gets even greater.
Software: Begun, The App Wars Have
Having used a Nexus 7 for the last however many months its been since Google I/O, and numerous Android tablets before that, I'm still not sure they'll ever catch up to Apple's iPad app selection. Android is so far behind here it hurts. Sure, we have a growing number of tablet apps to choose from, but many are remnants of the early days of 10" Android tabs, and have been left to basically rot on the Play Store. I already deal with too many scaled-up phones apps on my Nexus 7.
Let me just tell you a visual story.
Now, you're going to say "David, all those Nexus 7 screenshots are in portrait, and the iPad is in landscape - that's not fair." Actually, it's fair to the Nexus 7, because none of these apps deal with landscape mode any differently than portrait, and in fact show even less information in that orientation.
The other issue is, of course, all these iPad apps are designed for a full-sized iPad, not the Mini. And that's true. But here's the thing - while the iPad Mini's display is about 66% the size of the original iPad (in terms of area), a Nexus 7 is about 50% the size of a 10.1" tablet. It's entirely possible most full-sized iPad apps will scale down pretty OK, or require much more minor modifications than an Android app scaled from a 10.1" tablet down to a 7" would.
And let's face facts: iOS has a ton more tablet apps and games in the first place. When Apple releases a new product, developers absolutely scramble to make compatibility happen. Granted, the iPad Mini will be less of a reason to scramble than a new iPhone or regular-sized iPad (at least for now), but they'll still move a hell of a lot quicker than Android app developers - because they know exactly what they're developing for, and they know lots of people are going to be using that device.
There's zero doubt in my mind that the iPad Mini's app ecosystem will best the Nexus 7's from day one. It's not even going to be a contest. Granted, Android will start catching up as these cheap tablets become more and more popular in the western world, and I'm pretty confident they will. Android will dominate the $200-300 segment for the foreseeable future, and that's a market that is just going to grow every quarter.
On the more general OS side, going with the Mini then means you're stuck with iOS, which for an Android person, feels awfully limiting. You lose all the customization options, widgets (admittedly, a big deal on a tablet), and a lot of great Google Apps. Like Maps. Did I mention Google Maps? You won't have Google Maps. And the tablet version of Gmail on Android is pretty dang awesome, too.
This part really comes down to opinion: if you want a tablet that you can twist and mold into what you want to make out of it, and live in an OS that is simply more versatile, the Nexus 7 is the clear choice - particularly if you're a Google services diehard. If you're all about discovering cool new apps and games, the iPad Mini is going to be a more satisfying experience. As Android fans, I do think we have a tendency to sometimes ignore that part of the equation. I believe it's a completely legitimate reason to go for the iPad, and Android simply doesn't offer a comparable experience in that regard - yet.
Conclusion: Should We Be Worried?
Probably not. The iPad Mini will almost certainly sell in droves. It will probably outsell the Nexus 7 almost immediately. But Android has already begun to do what it did with phones in the small tablet space: divide and conquer with volume - especially outside the US. And domestically, we have cheap tablets like the Acer Iconia A110 on the way, and it's a near-certainty that Samsung, ASUS, and probably others are already working on their own $250-or-less budget devices. The iPad Mini simply isn't priced aggressively enough to rip this market away from Google and Amazon. In fact, Amazon is probably the bigger threat. Heck, a $300 8.9" 16GB tablet with a high-res display? That's aggressive.
And while a $250 32GB Nexus 7 may not be enough to rain on Apple's proverbial iPad Mini parade, it will absolutely present a serious counterargument to Cupertino's first foray into the more petite form factor. Small Android tablets are here to stay. Apps will start catching up (I hope), and Google will continue to refine, advance, and iterate the underlying OS at a rate Apple has already shown it cannot keep pace with.
It'll be an interesting battle to watch unfold, for sure, but by no means does a small iPad spell doom for the Android tablet.