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iPad mini announcement shows Apple’s focus on books, education

by Phil Hornshaw

Apple’s latest keynote address focused less on the new capabilities of the company’s iPad line, and more on the students who will benefit from new iPad applications and form factors (in addition to a reduced price!).

The latest device in the iPad family, the iPad mini, seems perfectly aimed at the education market. During his keynote address, Apple CEO Tim Cook noted that Apple’s iPad has become fairly popular in the education sector. There are about 2,500 classrooms that utilize iPads as learning tools, and Cook noted that about 80 percent of the high school textbook curriculum is available through the iOS iBooks service.

All that focus on education seems to make it clear that Apple wants the iPad mini to be the device for students to hit the virtual books. Although Cook noted how much web surfing gets done on the iPad line, tablet owners seem to use the device the most as an e-reader. That makes sense, since easy-to-read tablets can hold a lot of books and other text-based documents.

Amazon already successfully took advantage of this idea with its Kindle line. Kindle devices, including the Kindle Fire Android tablet, are all smaller than Apple’s 9.7-inch tablet and are primarily geared toward reading. It makes sense that Apple might see the e-reader market as an area into which it could expand. Customers are already using the iPad as an e-reader, after all. Why not compete on more even terms?

An education initiative

Enter the iPad mini. The device carries the same functionality of the iPad, but in a reduced size. Basically, Apple found a way to be competitive in the market of smaller tablets and e-readers, using the convenience of their size while leaning on all its functionality and power.

So if the iPad is already a handy e-reader and is used in classrooms, it makes sense for Apple to go for that market full steam with the iPad mini. It’s a more convenient reading device, but still a functional iPad. It’s also significantly cheaper than a regular iPad. It makes the tablet a little more affordable for schools by reducing the price to $329, and the smaller size makes it a little more comfortable for kids (and their parents.)

Cook also spent some time during the keynote talking about iBooks and iBooks Author, an app that will make creating textbooks that work with iOS devices even easier for publishers. Textbooks are a big market into which Apple has expanded. The iPad mini is positioned to be a great educational device, where students can dump their textbooks, watch videos, take notes, and more.

Oh, and the fourth-generation iPad

The real surprise today is that Apple also introduced a new version of the iPad, seemingly without a whole lot of fanfare. Thinking back to the announcement of the (formerly) “New” iPad in the spring, it seemed that the Apple team was much more excited to talk about the capabilities of the device. After all, the third-generation iPad was a big step forward from the iPad 2, a yearly refresh that threw in lots of features customers wanted, like Retina display.

The fourth-generation iPad also has a lot of cool new internal components, like the faster A6X chip. But it didn’t get the over-the-top treatment Apple usually piles onto new devices. The spotlight was clearly on the iPad mini, expanding Apple into new territory. It seems that the fourth-generation iPad serves more of a marketing function than a product one.

Apple is able to roll out a new iPad thanks to better components. Moreover, launching the iPad 4 in the fall puts the yearly refresh cycle in October, rather than May – which puts the new announcement squarely in the holiday shopping season.

With the mini’s educational focus and the iPad line becoming more and more ubiquitous, it seems that the fourth-generation iPad is a quick addition for the holiday season. Don’t be surprised if Apple tries to really shake customers out of complacency next year, however.

With five different iPads on the market, Apple will want to come out swinging to remain on top, reminding people of how they felt when they first saw the iPad when the next generation of tablets are unveiled. That should mean a big push forward among tablets to recapture that spirit.

Stay tuned.

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