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Why you shouldn’t buy an iPad Air until you’ve checked out the iPad mini

by Don Reisinger

November 3 2013

Don Reisinger is a New York-based technology journalist who writes for CNET, the LA Times, and other publications.


"Apple's decided to keep selling the iPad 2, but the truth is, it's become obsolete."

With Apple’s iPad Air now officially on store shelves, the tablet market’s next generation has officially begun. But before you rush out to get Apple’s lightweight flagship slate, consider that a potentially better buy is just around the corner. 

I’m talking of course about the new iPad mini with Retina display that goes on sale later this month.

The second-generation iPad mini’s troubles have little to do with features and everything to do with, well, features.

According to several analysts and even Apple CEO Tim Cook, the company is having some trouble producing enough iPad mini Retina displays to get an ample supply on store shelves this quarter. Conventional wisdom suggests the high-end displays will be coming to the iPad mini in droves by next year, but for now it looks like supplies will be tight this holiday quarter.

That issue, coupled with the belief that the $229 Kindle Fire HDX will be a winner for Android customers, has analysts around the world saying that for the foreseeable future, the iPad Air will lead Apple’s tablet lineup. It might also help that the iPad Air has a three-week period without any competition from the iPad mini until it ships.

(Stay on top of the latest iPad news, reviews and analysis by subscribing to the free TabTimes for iPad newsletter)

But all of that fails to recognize the iPad mini’s long tail. Back in February, research firm NPD DisplaySearch revealed that the iPad mini overtook the flagship iPad in sales. The research firm had expected Apple to sell 40 million iPad minis and 60 million iPads in 2013. After checking the market, however, the research firm found that the direct opposite would be the case.

Gartner and ABI Research, two other respected research firms, say that the iPad mini accounts for 60 percent of Apple’s tablet shipments. (Apple unfortunately doesn’t break down unit sales by model.)

Despite the iPad Air’s anticipated success over the iPad mini 2 during the fourth quarter, history seems to indicate that customers are more enticed by the iPad mini than Apple’s flagship model.

Jumping at the iPad Air right now, then, doesn’t seem to make much sense. And making that leap this year or next makes even less sense.

The iPad Air might be 20% thinner than the previous model and its inclusion of wireless-ac Wi-Fi might be nice, but it’s by no means a huge upgrade over the previous model. In fact, a compelling argument can be made for sticking with the most recent 4th generation iPad if you have one already until Apple shows off something truly special.

(Buying tablets for your business or organization? Planning a deployment? Don't miss the TabletBiz conference and expo, a special one-day event coming to New York on November 13, 2013)

The iPad mini stands out

The iPad mini, meanwhile, is a different story. While it might be somewhat expensive for a small tablet, starting out at $399, the device’s Retina Display is a huge selling point. The iPad mini is designed to be a mobile product for travelers. Those folks are increasingly turning to movies and television to pass the time. Having a high-end display to enjoy that content seems like a fine option. And being able to save at least $100 compared to the iPad Air makes it even better.

For budget-conscious customers, the iPad mini is the ideal choice. After all, who wants to pay $499 for a tablet that comes only with Wi-Fi and sports 16GB of storage? Others would make the argument that the iPad 2, which is still available and costs $399 to start, is a worthwhile option, since that comes in at the same price as Apple’s 7.9-inch slate.

The truth is, however, the iPad 2 is obsolete. Some iOS 7 features don’t work with Apple’s old tablet and the design is second-rate compared to what the company is offering across its iPad line.

Those two issues leave us with only one option: the iPad mini. Yes, you’ll sacrifice screen size to get the iPad mini, but you’ll also save some cash compared to the iPad Air. And there’s no way to discount the importance of the Retina display – especially for those folks sitting on the first-generation iPad mini watching movies and wishing they had something just a little better.

Apple’s iPad mini might not be the perfect tablet, but it checks all of the boxes today’s consumers (and even enterprise users) care about. There’s virtue in the middle. And the iPad mini proves that every step of the way.

(For all things iPad, bookmark TabTimes.com/ipad)

Don Reisinger is a New York-based technology journalist who writes for CNET, the LA Times, and other publications.
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