Speculation continues to mount that Apple will release a smaller 8-inch iPad. Many pundits have taken to calling the device the iPad mini, following the convention set with the iPod mini.
Let’s assume that this device exists and will be launched sometime in the near future. Let’s also assume that this device will be a smaller iPad and not a larger iPod touch. Naming this product will be key in Apple’s expansion of it’s post-PC product line-up, and it is not without a challenge.
There has been a lot of discussion that a smaller iPad doesn’t fit into Apple’s portable line-up. There is one screen-sized iPhone and one screen-sized iPad. Yet the Mac lines feature products at a range of different screen sizes. While there is clear demand for the smaller tablet form-factor, where does an 8” iPad fit into Apple’s product line, and who is it intended for?
In positioning devices for the post-PC era, Steve Jobs once said that PC’s are like trucks and tablets are like cars. Extending that metaphor, we can think of an 8-inch iPad as two-door hatch, capable of doing most things a regular sedan can but in a more nimble package.
Remembering the iPad is still in the early stages of the product lifecycle, the challenge for Apple is how to position this device in the line-up without creating customer confusion and diluting the nascent iPad brand.
There are two types of brand architecture1 Apple could utilise in naming a smaller iPad. Apple could follow the iPod model and create a hybrid brand, such as naming the device the iPad mini. Alternatively, Apple could retain the distinct brand of the iPad and simply name it iPad, in the same way the different screen-sized Macbook’s are not sub-branded.
A case against a hybrid brand strategy
Apple could create a hybrid or sub-brand by taking the existing iPad name and appending a new word, such as mini. This is Apple’s strategy for their iPod line, creating a new sub-brand while retaining the brand cachet of the more established product.
People feel they are more productive, more creative and more mobile when using an iPad. A hybrid brand would extend these desirable brand attributes and apply them to the new device, activating the same higher level needs of esteem and self-actualisation2.
In the competitive context, it may be beneficial to Apple to create a hybrid brand that can be positioned as a direct competitor to the wave of ‘media tablets’ that are focused on content consumption, like the Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7.
When Apple introduced the iPod shuffle, just by looking at the device itself it’s not easily apparant that it’s in the same class of the iPod. However by creating a hybrid branding strategy utilising the iPod name, the product was able to ride on coat tails of the iPod’s success. If the product had it’s own distinct brand, it may never have reached the level of success it achieved.
It allowed Apple to open up to new markets while retaining the ‘cool’ factor of the iPod brand. If young John wanted an iPod for Christmas, Mum and Dad could pick up the iPod shuffle for their son at a cheaper price point.
By appending the new name of ‘shuffle’, it makes it clear that the device has a different functionality to the regular iPod.
However a smaller iPad will run the same software and have the same functionality but in a smaller package. It may be a detriment to delineate the product from the 10-inch iPad. It could create the impression that the smaller device is not a full featured tablet, eroding the iPad’s marketplace advantage.
Retaining the distinct brand
Instead of creating a sub-brand Apple could retain the distinct iPad brand and apply it to different sized products. This is the strategy with the Mac lines. The 11-inch and 13-inch Macbook Air devices are not distinguished by sub-brands. Similarly, Apple could release an 8-inch iPad to coexist with the 10-inch iPad.
The brand elasticity of the iPad should be able to stretch wide enough to cover at least one other screen size in the line-up. The product differentiation between sizes is more akin to the Mac lines than the iPod lines. It would be in Apple’s best interest to retain the same brand strategy, as marketing can take advantage of the overall brand for budgets and reputation.
By retaining the same brand strategy for the smaller device, Apple would be reinforcing the notion that the smaller iPad is a full-featured tablet at a more convenient size. Not a compromised tablet at a reduced cost. This would allow Apple to raise the reputation of the device above that of competing devices that are marketed as consumption devices.
There are compromises to be made with either strategy. However it would be in Apple’s best interest to keep the premium iPad brand across the entire price umbrella. If you could purchase a full-featured iPad at US$200 or a reading device such as the Kindle Fire at the same price, which would you choose? By adding a sub-brand, it will dilute the strength and positioning of the brand and place the device on a more even playing field with it’s competitors.
If it was a betting man, I would bet the smaller iPad is simply that - an iPad. Just at a smaller size and lower cost.