Many speculated about the future of Apple after Steve Jobs's passing last year. Is the iPad Mini the first step towards a development similar to what company's product line underwent when it was manicured into bland oblivion and irrelevancy in the late 80's and early 90's?
Many have discussed what Jobs's genius lay in. He was known for his outbursts and erratic behavior. But, his personality aside, he seemed to possess a skill to know what people needed before they knew it themselves. He understood how great design (or art has he liked to call it) and technology could be combined to create wonderful new gadgets have now touched the lives of almost everyone who can afford them.
He didn't achieve this by taking a proven concept and carefully honing it. No, he dared to be creative and do things others believed impossible. His "reality distortion" field helped him convince others of his ideas and make them overcome doubt. In this regard he was an extraordinary leader.
But not everyone believed in Apple's ventures. In 2007 many, including industry experts, judged Apple's chances of being successful with a phone to be non-existent and expected it to flop. Instead Apple woke up a largely dormant industry and forced Nokia, SonyEricsson and Samsung to innovate. The blow to Nokia can be seen still today and the others have jumped on the Android bandwagon.
The iPhone was bold and a serious risk for Apple. But Jobs didn't stop there and moved on to make a tablet that "didn't suck" and was part of making some of the world's most beautiful laptops.
But Jobs's reckless nature, what turned him into a mercurial person prone to explosive highs and lows, isn't what defines Tim Cook, Apple's the current CEO. It's not unlikely that Apple's future products will be characterized by Apple lovingly and carefully maintaining the breakthrough success of its past. Risky innovating will be less likely without someone like Jobs to rally the troops. If so, the iPhone 5, which is a pinnacle of cellphone and industrial design, and the rumored iPad Mini, may be attempts to keep feeding, breeding and milking the iCow.
As for the iPad Mini, if I were crass I'd say it would be an attempt to milk the iPad brand some more. The niche between the iPod touch and the iPad isn't very big (or perhaps it really is, see my update below). But Apple usually does its homework and all their devices have found uses few of use expected or thought possible. And Android has been on Apple's hitlist for quite some time. Hitting Android tablets where it hurts would be in Apple's interest.
I sincerely hope Apple still has that innovative and daredevil spark that was Jobs's trademark. And that I am wrong and we will keep seeing new revolutionary devices as well as creative daring takes on old concepts. Apple's products have added a lot of fun to my life.
Update: CNN reports on the rumors and provides some arguments you should buy an iPad Mini. The strongest argument seems to be that tablet buyers are more and more price sensitive as tablets become more common and Apple hopes to give Amazon a fight, whose Kindle Fire has sold more than 5 million units.