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Why Launch the iPad mini Now?

October 23, 2012

Today was a huge product launch day for Apple, which unveiled a 7.9” screen version of its hugely popular iPad, dubbed the iPad mini.

It’s no secret that Microsoft, donning an extreme makeover from its tablet pioneering days eleven years ago, formally arrives at the party later this week. Like a debutante whose waited years to come out, Microsoft’s tablet offer is finally ready for prime time. So why did Apple choose today to launch the iPad mini, just three days ahead of Microsoft’s big ball?

The reasoning might seem obvious: Steal their thunder. Grab market share. Make a statement about just how far behind Microsoft is in the post-PC market. All true. But there’s a more significant rational lurking behind the curtain.

Independent software developers are already faced with an overwhelming challenge to keep up with demand for applications to run on existing iOS and Android devices. Now, within a matter of days, we have two brand new devices. Like blank canvases, the iPad mini and the Surface each await innovative application developers to help define the actual role these devices will play in our lives.

Plenty of people had a hard time conceptualizing why the world needed an iPad in the first place. Now it’s mind-boggling to think about everything we do with them.  Apple hit a home run with the iPad. But it was the independent software developers who imagined, innovated and delivered life-changing mobile applications.

Put yourself in the seat of the app developer watching this week’s product launches. As if your roadmap wasn’t overloaded already, now you have a few more major opportunities for your products.

The timing of today’s Apple launch makes that developer’s job of prioritizing what to make next even more important.  Do you re-code your existing iOS and Android applications on the WinRT architecture? The Microsoft Surface is certain to find a place in the market. But existing third-party apps for Surface are “me-too” versions.

iPad mini, on the other hand, represents the start of a brand new race to see who will define the coolest new applications to fit this new form factor.

Consider the developers’ dilemma against the backdrop of these stats released by Apple today:

  • 100 million iPads sold to date
  • 275,000 iPad apps, custom designed to take advantage of the large screen
  • 35 billion app downloads from the Apple App store
  • $6.5 billion paid out to developers

Take out any Apple bias, and you see why the timing of today’s launch is truly significant to the developer world. My bet is that developers will embrace iPad mini in record numbers. Microsoft’s other business units like the Dynamics line of ERP systems will begin to see rich, engaging user experiences on Surface. And corporations will be drawn to Surface because it comes with the industry-standard Office applications: Word, PowerPoint and Excel. By no means should we stick a fork in Microsoft just because they got scooped this week.

But it will be interesting to see where these two new revolutionary products take us in the coming year. I think Apple CEO Tim Cook said it best this morning: “We are just getting started.”

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