Apple recently announced that it had sold no less than 100 million iPads since the device was first launched in January 2010. And, in fact, Apple claims that during the summer quarter this year iPad sales outstripped sales of traditional PCs from rivals such as HP and Dell.
The success of the new iPad Mini therefore seems pretty much assured, especially since existing products such as Amazon’s Kindle and the Google Nexus 7 have already proved that there’s a market for pocket-friendly 7-inch tablets. The question for business users is whether the iPad Mini has a place in the office, or whether it’s simply a toy for playing Angry Birds in your lunch hour.
Touch of class
Needless to say, the iPad Mini is considerably more expensive than most of its rivals. Prices start at £269 for a model with 16GB of storage and Wi-Fi connectivity, with 32GB and 64GB models costing £349 and £429 respectively. If you want mobile broadband as well then that will add another £100 to the cost of each model―so the top-of-the-range model with 64GB and both Wi-Fi and mobile broadband will cost you a hefty £529.
That’s a far cry from the £129 starting price of the Kindle Fire HD. But, like its 10-inch counterpart, the style and quality of the iPad Mini spark a techno-lust that overcomes considerations of mere price. It’s a little larger than we were expecting, as the screen is actually 7.9-inches in size. However, Apple has managed to slim the iPad Mini down to a mere 7.2mm thick and just 312g in weight. It feels remarkably thin and light, and while it might not quite fit into your suit pocket it’s still small and light enough to easily carry around in a briefcase or shoulderbag when you’re on the move.
The 1024×768 screen resolution is relatively modest when compared to the Retina Display of the iPhone or the 10-inch iPad, but the image is bright, sharp and colourful, and works well for browsing the Web, reading e-mails or e-books, or watching video on a train or aeroplane. Apple’s dual-core A5 processor ensures that the iPad Mini feels fast and responsive, and its 10-hour battery life should see you through a trans-Atlantic flight. Our only complaint about the basic design is that―as always―Apple doesn’t include USB or memory card slots that would allow you to add extra storage or quickly transfer files onto the device.
Down to business
The hardware design of the iPad Mini may be impeccable, but software support is vital for business users and this is a key challenge for all versions of the iPad―especially now that there’s a flood of Windows 8 tablets looming on the horizon.
Apple’s iCloud service does provide smooth, automatic synchronisation of e-mails, calendars and other information, but is primarily designed for use with Apple’s own products. If you already use a Mac or an iPhone then iCloud will make it easy to pick up an iPad Mini and quickly gain access to all your important information. However, fitting the iPad Mini into a Windows-based organisation isn’t quite so easy.
There’s no iOS version of Microsoft Office currently available, but there are numerous apps, including QuickOffice and Apple’s own iWork suite, that can be used to view and edit MS Office documents. Having said that, the iPad Mini’s 7.9-inch screen and touch-controls aren’t ideal for document creation anyway, so rather than thinking of the iPad Mini as a replacement for a conventional laptop it’s probably best to think of it as a kind of digital notepad that allows you to check e-mails, jot down notes, and view documents on the move without the need to carry around a full-size laptop.
There’s one word of warning, though. The iPad Mini uses iOS 6―the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system―and there have been reports of problems with iPhones and other devices using iOS 6 when trying to connect to Microsoft Exchange servers. If your organisation uses Exchange for e-mail and other services then it might be worth waiting until Apple releases a fix for this problem.
The iPad Mini is sure to be a hit in the consumer market, and will certainly be a welcome travel companion if you need to while away some time on a long business trip. However, business users who require a high level of Microsoft Office compatibility in order to view or edit business documents should think twice before buying an iPad of any size. There are certainly apps for the iPad that can provide good compatibility when working with Office documents, and Android-based rivals such as the Nexus 7 don’t have any real edge over the iPad or iPad Mini on that score.
However, the arrival of Windows 8 has given birth to a number of new tablets that have the ability to run Microsoft Office natively, and to offer you the familiar Office interface that you’re already used to working with. Microsoft hopes that Windows 8 will finally give it a foothold in the tablet market, and it remains to be seen whether Apple has a strategy to fight back and to get the iPad into the briefcase.