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Summary:

Apple’s iPad mini may be the right device at the right time. According to Display Search, shipments of smaller tablet screens far outnumbered those for large slates early this year.

iPad mini notes and camera

Apple may have publicly dismissed small tablets at first, but its bet to introduce the iPad mini last year has turned out to be a good one. As successful as the larger iPad model has been since 2010, the device’s smaller sibling is a hot seller. In fact, the overall market for small slates could be growing far faster than that of the larger tablet market if data out of Display Search is accurate. The research firm has reversed an earlier forecast and now suggests that smaller tablets will outsell larger ones in 2013.

Why the big change? It’s an early data point, but Display Search found that small tablet screen shipments dwarfed larger panels at the beginning of this year.

“Shipments of 9.7” tablet PC panels collapsed, falling from 7.4 to 1.3M, while 7” and 7.9” panel shipments grew rapidly, from 12 to 14M. Shipments of 10.1” panels grew only slightly. The January panel shipment data may be an indicator for 2013, starting with Apple’s product mix shift. As we noted in December, Apple had planned to sell 40M iPad minis (7.9”) and 60M iPads (9.7”) in 2013. However, the reality seems to be the reverse, as the iPad mini has been more popular than the iPad. We now understand that Apple may be planning to sell 55M iPad minis (7.9”) and 33M iPads (9.7”) in 2013.”

A visual representation of tablet panel shipments between Dec. 2012 and Jan. 2013 (in millions of units) show this stark difference between small and large displays. While one month doesn’t make a trend, it can surely be the beginning of one:

Tablet panel shipments

The lower price of smaller tablets is surely one driver for sales of the iPad mini, Google Nexus 7 and other similar devices in this market. Apple’s newest iPad starts at $499 while a Kindle Fire, Nexus tablet or iPad, for example, start at $159 to $329. But another reason is what I noted when comparing portability of the original iPad and a 7-inch Galaxy Tab in early 2011:

“I purchased the Tab on a weekend at the local T-Mobile store and my family wanted to hit the mall afterwards. I either carried the device in hand or placed it in my back jeans pocket while cruising the mall for hours. As my wife or daughter stopped to browse for clothes, I quickly whipped out the small tablet to manage email, web-surf, and watch YouTube videos.

I wouldn’t have been able to do that with the iPad for one simple reason: the iPad wouldn’t have come with me on a trip to the mall in the first place.”

Fast forward two years and I do take an iPad to the mall and nearly every other place I go. But it’s the iPad mini because it offers all of the features of a standard iPad in a more portable package. It’s easy to use in more places and simple to take everywhere.

There’s clearly still a market for larger slates; they’re better for productivity and media consumption due to the larger screen. Simply put, Apple’s 9.7-inch iPad isn’t going away anytime soon; nor will the Google Nexus 10, Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, Asus Transformer or any number of other large slates.

The trend, however, is toward downsized tablets — or large phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, depending on your definition of what’s a smartphone and what’s a tablet.

  1. My next iPad will be a mini for the reasons you state. But there’s another important point in the Display Search data that you skipped: Apple’s revenue and profits for tablets overall aren’t going to be nearly as good as what they had planned. If we can trust Display Search (not clear whether we can), then

    1. Apple is on track to sell 88MM tablets, down from 100MM
    2. 62% of these will be the less profitable iPad mini, whereas original forecast was only 40% iPad mini

    Of course Apple had to introduce the mini or at least some of those 55MM devices would have been sold by a competitor, instead, while these numbers still point to growth, this market is starting to mature. Will be interesting to see if they can bring out anything this year to keep things moving along at the clip we’ve become accustomed to seeing from them lately.

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    1. Good points Matt. No doubt more minis sold will bring down the ASP of the iPad line, but if Apple can make up for it in volumes, it won’t hurt them. And I didn’t touch upon the Apple forecasts / estimates of iPads sold mainly because I’ve never seen Apple provide those figures. Not sure where Display Search got them from.

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  2. Totally relate to the ‘Man in Mall’ part. Accompanying GF or wife to shop in the mall will never be boring and tiresome! It could even be a great idea for the mall to provide iPad Mini rental service, a lot of the guys will pay I believe. Or set up an iPad zone adjacent to kids playground for guys to play iPad, hmm…
    http://wp.me/pcopn-lm

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  3. Sure because big phones won’t cannibalize 7-8 inch tablets.As for the Mini it’s just the initial boom with many ipad buyers adding a mini to their pointless collection of itoys but the mix won’t stay that unbalanced.

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  4. where the data from ? If smaller screen tablets is the trend, in the future it should merger with smartphone, why bother to have 2 similar size gadgets. Is it possible just because of the cheaper price and more portable ?

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  5. I think Apple launched the iPad mini because Android tablets are clearly eating their lunch in the mass market. In order to stay relevant in the long run (not only by revenue but also by market share), they need to compete on the lower end as well. There is a good summary of the growth figures in the Uniqloud tablet market overview.

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