Decoding Apple’s iPad mini news -- a PC for the rest of us

October 24, 2012 10:10 AM EDT

The Apple [AAPL] master plan isn’t always clear, but decoding a few moments during yesterday’s iPad and iPad mini launch event gives us a few hints at where the company is going: at its simplest, the company isn’t just fighting to dominate the tablet market -- it intends to dominate the future PC market, too.

[ABOVE: Ive’s grey T-shirt-led iPad mini evangelism in design video. Watch the things in the background: the office, the hospital, cycling, delivery services. These are just some of the ways real people are using their Post PC device.]

iPad: the PC for the rest of us

This makes sense if you think about it. CEO Tim Cook took some pains to bring home the message that Mac marketshare is growing far faster than the rest of the PC industry. He also worked hard to preach the gospel that the iPad is now outselling any other computer manufacturer’s entire PC range. 

That’s significant, because it means that the iPad is already a viable replacement for many of the tasks traditionally transacted on a PC -- but Apple’s vision doesn’t stop at using its industry-defining tablet as a consumption device.

The future vision isn’t just about traditional PC markets. Watch the presentation and you’ll see an iPad used as part of a ship navigation system, and we already know some pilots are using Apple’s tablet for their flight maps. There’s impact in medical, enterprise, financial and many other markets. In many cases you might see an iPad used in a situation a PC has never (or rarely and at great expense) before.

It’s also worth noting the moment during the iBook Publisher announcement during which Cook waxed lyrical about the software’s ability to place mathematical images within iBooks. This slight slice of news was welcomed by at least one reader who asked when Apple might introduce such support within iWork, which seems inevitable in the next version, I guess. 

Path's less travelled

I also think the advantages of such support for those who want to use an iPad within an engineering or architectural context should be considered: it basically opens up a Post-PC PC market to non-traditional sectors,  for use within the construction industry, for example. Site plans, anyone? 

You see, that you can use an iPad in situations in which you’re unable to use a PC is quite a big deal. It’s part of why Apple’s managed to ship 100 million of the things in just 2.5 years. That’s much faster than iPhone adoption, which helps reinforce the notion that the tablet market isn’t just about using an extra device as well as your PC, but as a device that replaces it entirely.

That’s something competitors don’t seem ready to accept. 

Microsoft’s Surface announcement basically put forth the proposition of a device that’s used as part of an overall environment that includes the PC. Those innovative Android-powered tablets are mainly aimed at the consumer entertainment segment, aiming to emulate the iTunes/iDevice/iCloud triptych Apple’s working to perfect . 

Those competing visions just aren’t extensive enough. They’re rooted in a traditionalist view of what computing is. They forget that the sector of personal computing itself is only a few decades old -- it’s a disruptive industry that’s young enough to be disrupted. 

Fact and FUD

Way back all those years ago (just over two) when Apple launched iPad 1, Steve Jobs famously said he didn’t feel 7-inch tablets were any good for people to use. 

That’s a statement that’s often pushed around by people attempting to argue Apple’s simply imitating the existing 7-inch players with its new launch, but they just aren’t seeing the bigger picture. 

When Steve launched the iPad it was clearly focused as a media consumption device; now, after seeing the product in use in the real world, Apple knows its tablet has the capacity to be much more than a media consumption device -- and for uses as diverse as can be made of it, it makes sense to make it available in diverse versions.

As evidenced at several points within yesterday’s keynote, Apple’s already looking beyond media consumption, it’s looking to iPad deployments at sundry points across multiple unexplored sectors. 

Look at some of the background images inside some of the videos; check some of the things the Apple execs are promising; consider the promises the company is making. The sub-text across the announcement isn’t just the promise of Post-PC, but the reality of the new wave PC.

Technically, the move to make sure the iPad mini has the same pixel count as the original iPad is smart, it means app developers don’t need to retool their apps for the new device. 

Ensuring the iPad mini has 30 percent more usable display space than the heavier, fatter, less well featured Android competitors just makes Apple’s device more attractive. "I don't know what all those other tablets are doing," Cook said. "They must be on store shelves or warehouses or at the bottom of people’s draws.”

Apple’s tablets get used. After all, as Cook argued, one of the biggest things people do with an iPad is go online -- so how come other tablets don’t make much of a blip on Web traffic metrics?

The analysts believe Apple’s attempt to seize space at the cutting edge of the wider post-PC PC market will be a success. 

The BYOD trend means many traditionally Windows shops are looking at these things; Apple’s decision to hint at markets beyond the traditional sectors should also pay dividends.

Srinivas Krishnamurti, VMware's senior director of mobile solutions, told Computerworld the iPad mini constitutes: "Another major milestone in the ongoing trend of users moving from PCs to tablets. VMware expects it will accelerate the adoption of tablets among organizations of all sizes due to its lower price point, especially small and medium businesses."

Add engineering, delivery services, information kiosks, sports technology, air transport, logistics, and warehousing to Krishnamurti’s list and you may get some idea as to what the iPad mini, and the new new iPad, are all about. The iPad is the new PC. And, of course, if you really want a PC, then you may as well get a Mac. 

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