How Apple Can Sell A Smaller iPad

iPad mini

Photo: Flickr / sam_churchill

This is a guest post from Business Insider commenter Sammy The Walrus IV. It originally appeared on his blog and has been republished with permission. Follow him on Twitter here.Marketing is an art, not a science. We were fortunate to see this art first-hand on January 27, 2010 as Apple unveiled the iPad.

Technological and engineering marvels aside, Apple faced the daunting task of marketing a disruptive product that had to grow into its role of replacing the modern-day PC. Jump ahead 33 months and it appears Apple has had some initial success, selling 84 million iPads.

Within weeks, the world will see Apple’s second test marketing iPad, but this time it will be a new form factor, a smaller iPad.

Marketing; Portraying the Product
The most important aspect of marketing is the product; the look, feel, and sound (fortunately iPad’s smell and taste aren’t a major factor in this discussion). Apple eloquently marketed the iPad as a sexy device that could do a few things extremely well, all the while feeling great in your hand. The consumer was left focusing on iPad’s strengths, and not its short-comings, or mysteries, such as if its weight becomes an issue after extended use.

In subsequent years, Apple began the task of marketing the iPad as a device capable of content creation, in an effort to begin cementing its path to replacing the modern-day PC. When unveiling a smaller iPad (7.85-inch screen) in October, Apple will be given 60 minutes to tell a story; why a smaller iPad should exist.

Apple may take two paths:
1)      Positioning a smaller iPad as a replacement to the current 9.7-inch iPad. Apple’s presentation will include all of the features a smaller iPad could do well, such as web surfing, content consumption and creation, but in a smaller form factor and at a lower price point. Consumers will have to decide between a small or large iPad.
2)      Positioning a smaller iPad as a companion to the current 9.7-inch iPad. Apple’s story will include the few things a smaller iPad could do extremely well, such as content consumption, in a more convenient form factor for extended passive use, such as reading or watching movies. Consumers will understand the differences between a small and large iPad and come away from the event wanting both, not one or the other.
Apple will most likely choose the second path, positioning the smaller iPad as a companion device to the current iPad line-up, and in doing so will not only sell a lot of small iPads, but keep the large 9.7-inch iPad as the powerhouse in the tablet market.
The Tablet Story
On January 27, 2010, Apple could have unveiled an iPad with a 7-inch screen, or 8 inches, or maybe even 12 inches, but settled on 9.7 inches. Apple knew there would be plenty of television commercials marketing iPad, but the biggest marketing ploy would be the product itself, a device capable of eventually replacing the modern-day PC as the primary form of computing. Apple wanted (or needed) consumers to begin thinking of an iPad as a possible laptop replacement from the start. The “iPad as your new laptop” thought didn’t need to be completely formed on Day 1, or even by Year 3, but Apple needed to plant the seed on Day 1 and a 9.7-inch device was an easier sell than a smaller 7-inch device.
Fast forward a few years, and the tablet market is now flooded with smaller 7-inch tablets. Besides not being given an adequate reason for their existence, consumers are confused by these 7-inch tablets labelled as a “full tablet” despite failing in comparison to a laptop’s immense feature list.  
So why should Apple introduce a smaller 7.85-inch tablet now? It is time because the 9.7-inch iPad is a success.

A Smaller iPad; Companion to the Current iPad
The iPad is now well established as a successful tablet and cornerstone to Apple’s product line-up. While many have fallen in love with iPad, the device does have some minor drawbacks, namely form factor for extended use and price. The device tends to feel heavy in hand after extended use, such as reading or movie watching, while the $499 entry price is still unattainable for a large swath of the population, including education and business, leaving wiggle room for competitors to try something at the bottom-end of the price ladder. Are these two factors (heavy form factor and price) enough for Apple to introduce a smaller iPad?
In October, Apple will address the space between an iPhone and a 9.7-inch iPad and most likely market a 7.85-inch iPad as a companion to the 9.7-inch iPad. Books, movies, TV shows, podcasts, and games will be shown as more enjoyable given a smaller iPad form factor. Apple will need to walk a delicate line though positioning a smaller iPad as the best way to consume content, as many will continue to enjoy content on their large iPads (as well as on their iPhones).

More importantly, Apple needs to portray a small iPad not as a 9.7-inch iPad replacement, but as an iPad companion. If consumers begin to think of a smaller 7 to 8 inch device-great at content consumption but not so great at other aspects-as an iPad replacement, the effort of positioning iPad as the disruptive force will be in jeopardy since wide-spread adoption would come under pressure and laptops would continue to appear superior to the average 7-inch tablet.
For those who would buy a smaller iPad due to price, proper marketing will position the smaller iPad as a gateway drug to a larger iPad. If a consumer enjoys content on a small iPad, the thought of not only consuming the same content, but also creating content on a larger iPad will only be enhanced.
Other Musings
Price. If given three $5 casino chips and told to guess the small iPad’s price, the $199, $249, and $299 squares would be occupied with a chip. If given one $15 casino chip, the $249 price point would be occupied. Not only is the product itself a form of marketing, but a device’s price can say a lot. Priced too low, a small iPad may have a hard time losing the “just a content consumption” tagline, while priced too high and the small iPad becomes an iPad competitor as consumers assume the two devices must be similar in compatibility. A $249 price point would be the best of both worlds; a device $150 less expensive than the entry-level iPad 2, but still more expensive than other 7-inch tablets.
Future iPads. One could replace any mention of “small iPad” in this piece with “larger iPad” and the same overall thesis would apply. A larger iPad (greater than 9.7 inches) for content creators (movie makers, artists, designers, etc.) would certainly make an interesting proposition.
iPod touch. The updated 5th generation iPod touch (and all of its amazing features) is sold for just $299, which could very well be more expensive than a 7.8-inch iPad. Apple is positioning the iPod touch as that powerful guard, awake all night, preventing any Trojan horse from causing havoc.
Product Quality. It says a lot that throughout this entire discussion, the idea of Apple selling a small iPad with superior quality and craftsmanship is simply assumed to occur.  Anything else would be a disappointment. High expectations can be both a blessing and curse.

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