Hand(s) On With the New iPad Mini

Photograph by Peter Burrows/Bloomberg

At $329, only one in five iPad minis will be purchased instead of a larger iPad, said Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster.

A few hours ago, I got the chance to play with the newest member of the Apple family — the iPad mini. My first impressions: It’s really light and really appealing, but it also feels a bit like a tweener.

When I first held the iPhone 5 back in September, I blogged about how amazingly light and comfortable it was. It felt like a product my hand had been expecting. Unlike those larger smartphones from competitors, the iPhone 5′s display was bigger but didn’t feel that way, mainly because the device remained thin enough to fit easily in your hand.

The iPad mini didn’t feel as comfortable.

I felt I was holding Apple’s version of a Kindle. Sure, the software is slicker and the production values are higher and the hoopla — wow, what hoopla – is unmatched. Yet it feels like an e-reader, not something entirely new nor (to me, at least) necessary to own. In fact, it felt slightly ungainly — too big for me to get a tight grip on with one hand, yet so small and light that it felt a tad insubstantial. Maybe it would feel better with one of those smart covers, or maybe someone should invent some kind of rubber handle to afix to the back cover. Accessory makers, you listening?

The performance didn’t blow me away, either. One note-taking/drawing app they had loaded onto the device crashed once and then took a long time to load. People who have grown used to a Retina display will not be overly impressed by the iPad mini’s non-Retina screen resolution. I won’t judge it on network performance, as there had to be more Wi-Fi- and 4G-enabled devices in that crowded demo room than anywhere on the planet.

Of course, my first impressions (or likely anyone else’s) won’t prevent this product from being a hit. Wall Street didn’t like the $329 price point, which leaves some room under the umbrella for Amazon and Samsung with their tablets, which start at around $200. But I’d bet that most of the iOS faithful would rather pay more to be able to get their personal media and apps on one more Apple screen. And if Apple had priced it at $200 or even $250, I’d likely be writing instead about whether this device would cannibalize sales from the full-size iPad.

At $329, only one in five iPad minis will be purchased instead of a larger iPad, said Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster. While chatting with him on the way out of the demo room, he noted that while Apple owns 85 percent of the 10-inch tablet market, smaller size devices have grown to become 20 percent of the overall market. Now that Apple has gotten into that game, he thinks the company’s overall tablet market share will rise from 70 percent to 80 percent within a year, continuing its iPod-like dominance.

“Their market share is going to go up,” he said.

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