I was having a discussion with a friend yesterday about iOS, about the iPad Mini, and about his iPhone. He had asked me if I still had the iPad Mini I had shown him a little while ago, and I told him no. He asked me if I didn't like it, and I simply told him that it didn't fit into my life like I needed it to. He then asked me a question that I had never been asked before:
"Is it because you have an iPhone?"
I stared at him for a moment, unable to really come to a direct answer. My initial reaction was to tell him no, that that had nothing to do with it. After all, why would it? The iPad Mini may be smaller than the standard iPad, but it's still bigger than the iPhone, so it obviously fills a different gap. But, the problem is that it doesn't. Yeah, it's bigger, but so what? Other than watching movies, I can't fathom what the big deal is. Many iOS apps work on the iPad Mini and iPhone (and the larger iPad, too), so other than the larger display, we're looking at the same device. Just stretched.
But, let's side-step that for a moment, and talk about software in general.
Earlier today, our very own Aaron Baker kicked off "Aaron Asks" and he wanted to know what you think 2013 is going to hold for our favorite industry. He points out that many of the changes need to come in the software department, from all the companies participating in the competitive race, and I agree with him. While seeing hardware advancements are great, I think we've hit the peak at the moment, so it's time to turn the focus on software, even more so than it already is, and start blowing us away with new things.
BlackBerry is trying to do that with their new BlackBerry 10 mobile operating system, but it's too early in the game to see if it's made any difference. Of course, with us asking for a bigger focus in software, we should point out a couple of things:
First, Apple. Apple absolutely needs to put a huge focus on software. We need a new iOS. We need something new. Yes, it can have some of the most popular elements from previous versions, but we need to look at something new. That's it. It's just that simple. In 2013, when Apple takes the stage later this year, they need to showcase their software developers have literally revolutionized their mobile OS, and show the goods.
Second, Google. The current version of Android, 4.2, is arguably the best version of Android to date. It's been refined, it doesn't look like a development project anymore, and it's as buttery smooth (pun intended, you better believe it) as we'd expect from a mobile OS in this day-and-age. With that being said, I'm curious if they are going to put a huge focus on software, other than refinements, when they unveil their new version of Android. There's a chance we see new hardware at Google I/O this year. Let's hope it's good enough to get people excited for what's coming down the pipe from the Mountain View company.
So, we know that software is going to play a big role in 2013, and beyond, so let's talk about that. Specifically, let's talk about why Apple needs to make their tablets different from their smartphones.
We all know the "phablet" term. That's going to be the only time I use it. We just needed to get on the same page. We look at a device like Samsung's Galaxy Note II (in pink!), and we see a combination of features taken from a smartphone and a tablet. That S Pen makes a lot of those features stand out, but truth be told, they could survive just fine without it. Being able to use multiple windows at once, for example. Watch a video while you text, for another. All of these are excellent features, especially for a device that is meant to bridge the gap between phone and tablet.
Here's what gets me: the iPad Mini does, in fact, bridge the gap between a large-sized tablet and Apple's smartphone. It exists right there, perfectly between the pair, and yet that's the only thing that differentiates it. Just the size. More to the point, the only thing that differentiates the iPad in general from the iPhone is size. Why is this?
Well, the easy answer is that Apple wanted to make it easy for apps to run on one device to another, and that's a legitimate answer. The other is that iOS works best as a media consumption mobile platform, with a few sprinkles of apps to help creative types, so differentiating between the iPad and iPhone isn't important.
Those arguments are valid. But you know what? I want my tablet to function differently than my phone. And I don't just mean some application functionality, either, with an extra pane of information, or new landscape features. No, I mean legitimate features. Features that a device like the Galaxy Note II has.
My iPad Mini, or iPad, should be able to run two apps at once. I should be able to check a web page while I'm watching a video. Just like in Microsoft's Surface with Windows RT tablet, for example. If you want to limit functionality on a smartphone, then go for it -- though I don't think limiting anything on any device is a good idea these days. People expect more. That's primarily why a device like the Galaxy Note II, with its ridiculously large display, isn't laughed right off the market. It offers features that make the display make sense.
My friend asked me that question, and while I wanted to say no, I realized that I actually meant yes. I didn't own the iPad Mini because with a very small amount of exceptions, every app I used on the iPad Mini I was already using, even more frequently, on my iPhone. Yes, the larger display does make watching movies better, and even viewing some Web pages is better, but I want those benefits along with having a tablet that isn't just a tablet because of its larger display.
So in 2013, I think that should be Apple's goal. They should try to add some differentiating features into their tablet line, to make them more like tablets, and less like large smartphones. Will we see that in the next iOS? Maybe. But maybe not. If you agree with me, we'll just have to keep our fingers crossed.
So let me know what you think Apple should do with their tablets. Should they offer new, specific functionality? Or does it matter? Let me know.