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Will Apple Take On The Kindle Fire And Nexus 7 Tablets?

I ordered my Nexus 7 (Fig. 1) when Google was taking preorders. I had looked at the Kindle Fire from Amazon and the larger iPad 2 from Apple but I went with Google's offering. NVidia's quad core Tegra 3 was the deciding factor. The need for speed is one of the

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Figure 1. The Google Nexus 7 is the best 7-in tablet right now, at least for me.

The Nexus 7 has essentially turned by original Kindle e-reader into a dust catcher. I only check it to see if it needs charging once a month. I'll probably see if anyone in the family wants it because the Nexus 7 handles all my reading requirements and more. I also find I charge the Nexus 7 only once a week if I just use it for reading since it essentially shuts down when not in use unlike my Droid Razr that is always talking to the nearest cell tower. That needs daily charging. Of course, the Nexux 7 requires daily charging if I use it for browsing and reading the news and I do that often.

I actually think the 7-inch tablet is the more useful form factor because it is smaller. I know others think that the iPad is as small as one would want but there is little that cannot be handled with the smaller form factor. Steve Jobs didn't think much of the smaller form factor but you tend to push what you have. I recall an article that mentioned he his dislike for smaller tablets had changed.

It does seem like Apple will have an iPad Mini in the 7-in form factor if the rumor mill is to be believed. It is likely that such a product will show up after the iPhone 5 that is expected this fall. It makes little sense to confuse the consumer with two potential blockbusters and the iPhone 5 is more important to Apple at this point.

The usual compliment of tablet peripherals include a backlit, capacitive LCD touchscreen (resistive exists but tends to be limiting), a USB/charging port, and usually a wireless connection including Bluetooth. MEMS sensors include 3D accelerometers and possibly 3D gyros and 3D magnetic sensors. A pressure sensor may be mixed in as well as a GPS receiver. Speakers, microphones, front and rear cameras fill out the rest of the checklist.

Take any two tablets and their checklists may differ a little but it now comes down to personal tradeoffs and pricing. The Nexus 7 does not have a rear facing camera and I have yet to need one since I also carry the Droid Razr and it does. Still, there are a lot of reasons to have that camera other than taking pictures including scanning UPC and QR codes. I am always seeing iPad users waving their iPad around to take pictures and videos so don't discount a rear camera completely.

The latest iPad sports the "Retina" display. Essentially it means that going with a higher resolution is worthless since the eye cannot resolve anything better. In practice, most new tablets have a resolution that handles anything you need to look at rather nicely. A higher resolution is better until you hit the iPad display's dots/inch but this is just a matter of how much the vendor is willing to pay for the display.

The big question with the iPad Mini is whether it goes with the 4:3 aspect ratio of the iPad or with the 16:9 that is more common with 7-in tablets. Changing the aspect ratio will wreak havoc on software but watching HD videos on a smaller 4:3 screen is not fun. A 16:9 aspect ratio would make an HD video display be much closer to what an iPad can render.

The touch interface is actually more important along with the speed of the presentation is actually more important than the screen resolution. Apple uses a dual core Arm architecture processor in its latest iPhone and iPad. The Tegra 3 in the Nexus 7 has more horsepower along with a hefty multicore GPU. I would expect the new iPhone and iPad Mini to move to four cores as well. Jumping way past this point would be too costly with little payback at this point but going with a dual core chip again would put the product way behind the competition. That is not like Apple.

I expect the iPad Mini to sport a premium price, probably about $299. So where might Apple provide innovation?

It will likely include the Retina display with the same peripheral compliment as the iPad but with a quad core processor. This includes front and rear cameras. Tossing the latter would save only a few bucks and they are already charging a premium price so why not include premium features.

Software is always a part of Apple's mix including its web support and that is one reason Apple owners like a mix that includes a Mac, iPhone and iPad. As long as you like the particular walled gardent then all is happy.

Pushing the limits on battery life, weight and thickness are possible ways for Apple differentiate their 7-in offering. Apple products tends to be built thin sacrificing a little on the side of repairability. While thinner, lighter and longer battery life is good it is unlikely that Apple could make massive gains in these areas.

Amazon is the other major player in the mix. Like Apple and Google, Amazon has a significant Internet sales infrastructure. Google and Amazon are selling their products close to cost while Apple's premium price allows more profit.

Most are expecting a new Kindle Fire from Amazon with a quad core processor. Amazon will have to answer the same kinds of questions as Apple. Even if Amazon just ups the amount of memory and adds a quad core processor then it is likely to still have a hit given how popular the Kindle Fire is.

If Apple does deliver the iPad Mini then it will be a bit bizarre given the Apple/Samsung trail result (see The Apple/Samsung Judgment And Our Broken Patent System). In the 7-in market, Apple will be the follower, not the leader.

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