Does Apple Still ‘Think Different’?

Last month, Apple unveiled its latest two products: the iPad 4 and the iPad mini. Achieving record breaking sales in the US in the first weekend alone and securing top positions in the must-have wish lists for Christmas 2012, it seems safe to conclude that these two tablets are already a huge success.

Or does it?

Despite the figures, these two variations on the first generation iPad have been caught in a firing line, attracting criticism not only from Apple cynics but from Apple fans too. It seems one significant and mutual point of contention surrounds whether or not Apple remains one step ahead: the pioneer of portable electronic devices.

To rewind to 2001, it was the release of the first ever iPod that saw Apple catapulted into the mainstream market and simultaneously earn the title, ‘innovator.’ Since then, the brand has achieved phenomenal success and worn its title proudly.

Apple has built a reputation for creating the need for a device long before the consumer has realised it and by consistently amazing the public, millions of people invest in Apple technology for a range of different purposes. But will this still be the case in years to come? By evaluating the specification, size and purpose of the iPad 4 and the iPad mini, what do these products say about Apple’s ‘iBrand’ today?

Does Apple still ‘think different’?

The iPad 4 – an iconic tablet that sits neatly between the iPhone and the iMac – is the second upgrade to come from Apple this year. Despite its predecessor hitting stores just months ago, Apple has chosen not to redesign the appearance of its newest model. Both generations are manufactured using the same materials, are available with parallel storage capabilities and equal price tags. Moreover, the dimensions of the iPad 4 remain at 7.31 x 9.50 x 0.37”.

However, much as the two generations of tablet look very similar, Apple has made some modifications to the inside of the device; the iPad 4 has ultra-fast Wi-Fi, uses an A6X chip for improved graphics and benefits from a Retina display. Furthermore, Apple’s latest iPad really is 4G ready.

Arguably though, the above list of improvements is somewhat lacking and the technical development to come from Apple since the iPad 3 is marginal. Ultimately then, does this list truly warrant the release of a whole new product? Many would disagree.

While the release of the iPad 4 does coincide with the launch of 4G on the EE network, this service won’t be widely available until mid-2013, so again, this does not seem reason enough. But perhaps we can excuse the iPad 4’s lack of any real innovative difference by blaming its existence on the impending festive season and Apple’s inevitable focus on Christmas sales. But saying that, can the same conclusion be reached for Apple’s second unveiling: the iPad mini?

The iPad mini sees Apple entering the mini tablet market for the first time. Unlike the iPad 4, the iPad mini is a first generation product. However, despite it being new to the Apple range, it is not a new concept for the consumer. What then, does the iPad mini represent in terms of the current technology market and what does it mean for Apple’s reputation as an ‘innovator?’

In terms of specification, the iPad mini is as sophisticated as the iPad 4, benefitting from the same technical capacity and equal battery life. Interestingly, Apple has even chosen to brand the mini device as ‘every inch an iPad,’ as if the iPad 4 were its superior older brother. So, what exactly is the difference?

As its product name suggests, the iPad mini is a smaller version of the iPad and consequently, it bears a smaller price tag. The device is advertised as 23% thinner and 53% lighter than the iPad 4 and fits into one hand. It is however, 0.9” bigger than its 7” Android competitors. The iPad mini has even been described as the company’s first major new device since the death of its co-founder, Steve Jobs.

Does resizing an existing product constitute as an innovation?

Looking at the current tablet market, a product’s dimensions are clearly key to staying ahead. Apple’s latest move towards ‘mini’ is reminiscent of their strategy in 2005, when they launched the first iPod Nano to compete with the iPod mini. Given the impressively small size of the Nano, Apple certainly displayed their technical innovation. Similarly, when the iPhone launched in 2007, the world was once again reminded of the company’s pioneering attitude and its capacity to revolutionise the technology we use daily.

But since overhauling the mobile industry and then launching the original iPad, Apple has arguably become more of a sheep than a shepherd, responding to market pressures by launching products to compete, rather than to innovate. And perhaps it is no coincidence that since the passing of Steve Jobs, Apple has struggled to create ground breaking technology. Many fear the firm cannot continue to innovate to the same level without Jobs an certainly the iPad 4 and iPad mini do little to eradicate this concern.

There is however, one possible avenue that could save Apple’s reputation: television. Rumours the brand will revolutionise TV have circulated for months. Some reports even suggest Apple have abandoned plans to create a television set of their own, in favour of bidding for terrestrial and cable network rights. If and when this happens, Apple can exhibit once again, its capacity to be at the forefront of technical innovation: listening to market trends but delivering something greater than what the consumer expects.

Despite the iPad 4 and iPad mini failing to revolutionise the popular yet over crowded tablet market, Apple has succeeded in creating two market leaders. Much as the devices aren’t exactly different from previous models, they do appeal to the masses because technical consumer culture is evidently captivated by size. As sales figures demonstrate, the fact that Apple has responded to this trend is ok for now but this may not be sufficient, should they fail to reveal some true innovation soon.

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Rhian Robinson is the Marketing Executive for Sentronex, a technology services provider supplying bespoke IT solutions niche to regulated financial businesses in London. Rhian has worked for Sentronex since graduating and is very much involved with the company’s online and offline brand awareness strategy – a key element to any SME’s growth and expansion plans. Rhian is also responsible for Sentronex’s PR activity.