What the next iPad Mini can learn from the Nexus 7

What the next iPad Mini can learn from the Nexus 7

A week of living with a Nexus 7 shows some of what the Mini needs to do to catch up, and also what the Mini’s still doing right.

It’s August, and Apple hasn’t released a new iPads or iPhone in 2013.
That should change soon, but to what degree? Yes, we’re expecting at
least one new iPhone, and maybe a redesigned Retina iPad…but what
about the iPad mini?

For the past week, I’ve been using a Google Nexus 7. Until that point, I’d largely been an iPad Mini user. Apple’s smaller
tablet’s easy to love. It’s very portable, very versatile, and…it doesn’t have a Retina display.
The new
Nexus 7
has a far superior resolution for its size, is a smaller tablet, and
costs less, plus it has a faster processor and better graphics. It also catches up with the Mini on some of its other features: a rear-facing camera, for instance, Bluetooth 4.0, and optional LTE.

So,
should Apple’s next Mini be worried about the competition? In some
ways, yes, but Mini does have some inherent advantages. Here’s what the
next one should address.


 

Drop pricing, particularly for storage

The 2012
iPad Mini
starts at $329. The 2013 Nexus 7 starts at $229. A hundred dollars
matters when it’s nearly a third of the entire price. But the bigger
story is the configuration “bump-up” cost: you’ll pay another $100 for a
32GB iPad, while the Nexus 7 only charges $40 more for its 32GB model.

I’d
love to see a cheaper iPad Mini — at least go to $299 — but, more
importantly, I’d like the 32GB model to not be $429. The same’s true for
iPhones: in 2013, we shouldn’t be paying $100 for 16GB of flash
storage.

Retina display would be nice, but not at the expense of battery life

The Nexus 7’s display looks great. I’m a big e-reader. The Kindle
app feels crisp and fun to use. And the Mini absolutely needs to go
Retina, the sooner the better.

I’m not sure I’d take a Retina
display in exchange for a less-impressive battery life. The Nexus 7’s
CNET battery life rating’s not as great as the iPad Mini’s, and it dips
below the original Nexus 7. Then again, that’s exactly the trade-off I
made buying a third-gen Retina iPad after owning an iPad 2. The Mini
could afford to get a little thicker and heavier: it’s miraculously
nearly the same weight as the new Nexus 7 (0.68 vs 0.66 pounds) despite
being a larger device, and is about the same thickness. But I wouldn’t
want it to deviate too far off the mark.


 

Also, how much do those extra pixels matter in the
immediate present? Going back to the Mini after the Nexus 7, I expected
to notice the pixel difference more…but it’s not as bad as I thought.
It’s very usable.

 The extra pixels add fidelity more than actual
content. I showed my mom, a non-techie but a big Kindle user, and she
really couldn’t even appreciate the difference in letter crispness. But
she did notice that the Mini fit more same-sized words on a page than
the Nexus 7.

So: get Retina, and make sure battery life’s still okay.

Bigger is actually better (for screen), so don’t sweat the smaller Nexus

Line
the iPad Mini and Nexus 7 up and play HD video in landscape mode, and
the effective post-letterboxed picture size ends up the same. You’re
just adding more black-bar space on the Mini.
So, advantage Nexus
7 for that. And for games, you may prefer the more conventional aspect
ratio of the Nexus 7 tilted on its side if you like holding it in your
hands.

But the iPad Mini’s wider screen, as Apple has often stated, has a
huge advantage for other things. Typing an article on an on-screen
keyboard, web browsing, or reading magazines all feel a lot more natural
on the Mini. It’s still the better productivity tool, and feels a lot
more versatile. That extra .9 inches amounts to 35% more effective
screen real estate, even if it is less pixel-rich.

For certain
games like strategy or board games, the bigger effective area makes more
sense, too, even if the overall pixel count’s lower.


 

I do love the easy one-hand feel of the Nexus 7. It’s
reminiscent of my Kindle. But it’s not that much smaller than the iPad
Mini.

Both tablets, weirdly, are the same length. Both the Mini
and Nexus 7 fit awkwardly in my jeans, which probably just proves I have
extremely large jeans pockets.

I wouldn’t give up that screen
width for a narrower device, though, unless I was dead-set on the Nexus 7
being mainly an e-reader and video player.


 

Add a kid-friendly mode and multiple user accounts

I’ve wanted iOS to be multiple-profile-friendly for years. Android
4.3 introduced it, and the new Nexus 7 has it. New iPads need it, too.
The iPad’s a far more sharable device than an iPhone, and I hand my
4-year-old kid the Mini all the time. I don’t want him deleting work
emails or full-out web browsing. This is a software feature more than
hardware, so it’s up to iOS 7 to surprise us and introduce this in a
near-future update. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Software: better keep staying ahead of the pack

Google
Play’s made great strides, and there are a ton of apps to play with on
Android tablets. But it’s still not as good as the App Store for iPads,
especially for games.

I discovered that certain apps, like HBO
Go, are out there on Google Play but aren’t yet compatible with the
Nexus 7. That available-but-not-for-your-device phenomenon haunts
Android a little. iPads eventually become incompatible with software,
but new devices can play everything right away.

The Nexus 7’s
superior gaming graphics look stellar, should you find a game you want
to play. I downloaded Riptide GP2, but many of the awesome iPad games
I’ve been playing lately don’t seem to be around on Android yet.

Find a way to stand out, and keep aggressive 

Last
year was an incredibly busy time for little tablets, and 2013 even
crazier. You can buy a 7-inch tablet for $99 (although it may not be very good).

I
use the iPad Mini as my everyday travel computer, too, and I’m not sure
the Nexus 7 would fare as well in that regard. But Apple needs to keep
emphasizing the versatility of the Mini versus its competition.

 Unfortunately, other than that different aspect ratio and a superior
assortment of apps, the gap is narrowing. Tablets are becoming commodity
devices, too, and the next Mini either needs to be super-affordable or
extra-special. Maybe, via Retina and non-Retina devices, it could be
both. The Mini definitely needs a power boost over its existing A5
processor, at the very least.

I just know that the Mini, one year
later, blends in to the crowd more than it did before. And the Nexus
7’s a far more formidable rival than it was a year ago. But I’d probably
still choose the Mini. 

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