Why are Apple's Minis such a minor consideration?

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This article appeared in the November 2014 issue of CRN magazine.

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Why are Apple's Minis such a minor consideration?

Twenty-nine seconds. Not quite half of one minute. That’s how long Apple spent in its recent product announcement detailing the updated version of the iPad Mini. In a presentation lasting a little over 5,400 seconds, 29 of them were spent on that product. It’s not much of a percentage.

Granted, greater verbosity was hardly warranted. This year’s incarnation of the iPad Mini is identical to last year’s but for the addition of a fingerprint sensor. Really, even taking 29 seconds about it was padding.

It was more than just a non-update, though. When the first iPad Mini was announced, simultaneous with the iPad Retina (aka iPad 4), it was a generation behind. Internally, it was almost identical to an iPad 2. The iPad Mini Retina, announced at the same time as the iPad Air a year later, leapt ahead to be the same internally as its larger sibling.

This time round, Apple could have chosen to keep the Mini on-par with the standard iPad, but didn’t. It chose to leave the Mini a generation behind. This is a demotion.

And the demotion of the Mini comes despite – as CEO Tim Cook mentioned in passing – the device rating a rare 100 percent score in customer satisfaction. Loved, yet so unloved.

Remember the iPod Mini? The first iPod that came in different colours? It was the most popular iPod of its day, but was unceremoniously dropped in favour of the iPod Nano. In that case it was a casualty of Apple’s move away from mechanical drives towards flash memory-based iPods. 

There’s no such rationale for the neglect of the iPad Mini, except perhaps this: Apple just hates things called ‘Mini’. It introduces them, builds them up a bit, then remembers its aversion and dooms them to ignominy.

Case in point. Right at the very end of the presentation – after the new iMac was announced and people were already looking at the exits – a new Mac Mini was announced. This was sort of big news, because it was the first update of any substance to the Mac Mini in some considerable time. Don’t worry if you missed it, though. More time in the presentation was dedicated to the Apple Watch – a product about which we already knew and which we will not be able to buy for some months – than to the Mac Mini. More time was spent congratulating Apple for selling lots of iPhones – without divulging numbers – than detailing the updated Mac Mini. It was that kind of presentation.

The biggest change to the Mac Mini range, incidentally, was the removal of the Server Edition. In the long and storied history of Apple hardware, perhaps the only products more blighted than anything called ‘Mini’ is anything called ‘Server’. The poor old Mac Mini Server Edition never stood a chance. Doomed from birth with a moniker like that.

It’s possible that the iPad Mini is a casualty of the iPhone 6 Plus, a device not that much smaller, but with the capability of making phone calls. Certainly the iPhone fills that ‘bigger than a phone, smaller than a tablet’ niche with impressive functionality, though the iPad Mini is easier to type on (for the record, I’m typing this very column on an iPhone 6, not even a 6 Plus, so it can be done). A number of bloggers and reviewers have published comparisons of the two, with varying results. But clearly the perception exists that the two products are competing for similar customers. Apple doesn’t like to do that.

If that is the case, it might be a good thing. If the iPhone 6 Plus is to be considered a small tablet rather than a big phone, then maybe there are still those in Cupertino who think of the iPhone 6 as a big phone, and not a normal-sized thing that people with human hands are supposed to be able to grip and use comfortably with one hand. Maybe there’s someone, somewhere, thinking that a future iPhone the size of the iPhone 5s might be worth building. That form factor was hardly unsuccessful, you know.

Knowing my luck, of course, they’d call it the iPhone Mini.

Matthew JC Powell is a technology commentator, philosopher and father of two, in no particular order

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