Attention Shoppers: Why the iPad Mini May Be the Retail World’s New Best Friend

The iPad Mini is a strong move for Apple. Once again, Apple has released a new device and naysayers took their shots, saying it would never sell. The result was a somewhat bizarre negative Wall Street reaction, which should be tempered by the recent news that Apple sold three million of its two new iPads (the Mini and the iPad 4) in a mere three days. The Mini is a smart option for consumers and a great addition to the product line. At $329 (and potentially coming down in time), the Mini should remove any barriers to buying an Apple tablet other than consumers who want to stay away from Apple completely.

While the benefits for Apple and consumers are clear, the Mini is a trickier proposition for marketers looking to use the device to enhance digital connections with their customers.

The iPad Mini isn’t a completely new category in the way the original iPad was, but it will be a new sub-category (though the small tablet trail was blazed by Kindle and Android, it’s not legit until Apple enters the race), and any time there is a new market, there is opportunity. The big change, of course, is the size. Much more portable than its bigger sibling iPad, the Mini’s smaller size allows us to introduce digital experiences to a variety of situations where they haven’t been seen before.

For businesses, the Mini allows a point-of-sale to be put anywhere. Think of airlines being able to send reps into long lines of customers to start the check-in process or Starbucks employees taking orders on the move. Imagine a waiter taking an order on a Mini and having it go straight to the kitchen. It can then be dropped in an apron without a second thought. For inventory-taking and factory workers, it’s an easy one-handed device that allows for more multi-tasking while using it. And while $70 isn’t a huge price gap, the Mini is less of an investment and as a result is a bit less precious.

Of course, all of these tasks could be done with an iPad or with a phone. But screen size is all about convenience. It’s why we generally don’t have our boarding passes on our tablets or watch movies on our phone; we can, it’s just not the optimal experience. Making the Mini work for you is all about locating the right use cases for the device.

Needless to say the Mini is a huge boon to magazines, blogs, and ebooks (and a big threat to Kindle). By making reading for an extended period of time easier (with less than half the weight) yet having the fully-fledged iOS operating system to facilitate advertising, the Mini will be another digital shot in the arm for the “printed” word.

The New Shopping Accessory

Perhaps the biggest advantage for marketers is that the Mini is also going to allow consumers to bring tablets with them in situations where today they do not. We’ll be much more likely to slip the Mini into a bag, so there is a greater chance it will be on hand.

As a result, one of the primary use cases will be in-store. With a larger screen, it’s easier for customers to get on retailer websites in-store without the awkwardness of a full-blown tablet. The screen real estate also would be great for FaceTime chat with product support – it would let marketers offer the kind of service they have on the web (real-time chat) via video. That means you can have centralized, more efficient expertise rather than trying to create expertise in every store. Another great in-store application for apparel merchants could be the “magic mirror” where you could scan an item of clothing and then use your camera to see what it would look like on you without having to try each thing on.

The “tweener” tablet size of the Mini is also perfect for the entire grocery shopping lifecycle. It’s the perfect device for making lists, snagging recipes off the web, and deciding what you need for a shopping list. It’s small enough to have in the aisle or in the top of a cart, yet big enough to make notes on. That’s a great opportunity for more involved mobile couponing apps. We’ve been working with some of our CPG clients on virtual reality product comparisons in the aisle, where key data, reviews, and recommendations appear next to the scanned item, and the Mini is an ideal, one-handed size for those experiences. Post-shopping, the Mini is well poised to be more of a kitchen appliance than a full-sized tablet. It’s a great form factor to be a cooking/recipe guide, and can layer in music and news to keep the home chef entertained. With a lower price point it will be less precious than the current iPad and can get a lot of community kitchen usage with every family member using it for different functions.

At the risk of being labeled sexist, the biggest winner with iPad Mini may just be women. For the group who often carries some kind of purse with them, the weight of the Mini is negligible, and the impact of having it on hand is significant.

The negatives for the Mini are mostly on the development and maintenance of applications front. Like it or not, every marketer has become a product owner in the last several years, and for many longtime marketers it’s an uncomfortable role. After generations of creating campaigns that last for a matter of months (at most), brand marketers now own apps, CRM products, purpose-focused websites, and out-of-home devices like Target’s Video Game Advisor or Nike’s FuelBand. Tablet apps are a critical example of this trend, and when more users have tablets with them (see above), there is more need for apps to be customized for the Mini. Adding a new form-factor means complexity. One reason nearly every app has historically launched on Apple’s iOS platform first is because of the ease of a single operating system and two screen resolutions. While the Mini will not take Apple anywhere near the fragmentation that we see in the Android landscape, adding it to iPad 1, 2, 3, and now 4 will mean some work. Marketers that want to create experiences that make the best use of each platform are going to need to add time and resources to launch across all of iOS.

Thankfully the Mini will be able to run the 275,000+ iPad apps without modification. But the race to become noticed in the App Store is getting ever tougher. As a company that released an app this summer that became the number four app in the entire store, trust me when I tell you it’s the little things that make the difference. Optimizing an app for the Mini and its one-handed, portrait-centric sweet spot is a great way to stand out.

Digital marketing is never easy, and every new device increases the complexity. As always, our job is to stay a couple of steps ahead of what everyone else is doing. To quote Wayne Gretzky, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

Related reading