If you blinked during Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad event on Thursday you may have missed the introduction of the iPad mini 3.
Apple spent nearly 20 minutes playing up the iPad Air 2. The thin and powerful tablet will turn heads when it hits the market in a few days at the same price points as the original iPad. However, when it came time to show off the refreshed version of Apple's iPad mini line, the iPad mini 3 was quickly unveiled before Apple marketing exec Phil Schiller moved on to talk up the latest Mac.
Why did Apple breeze through the iPad mini 3 introduction? Why did it just throw it out there in a hurry like the rushed side effects warning at the end of a male enhancement drug commercial?
Apple probably has a reason, and it wouldn't be a surprise if that reason is the iPhone 6 Plus that hit the market to rave reviews last month. After all, as iPhones get bigger and iPads get smaller something was going to have to give. Right?
The iPad mini 3 is 26% taller and 73% wider than the iPhone 6 Plus. That may seem like a lot, but when you compare the 7.9-inch screen of the iPad mini 3 to the 5.5-inch screen of the iPhone 6 Plus -- in light of the current slate of iOS gadgetry that goes from the 4-inch iPhone 5S to the 9.7-inch iPad Air 2 -- it certainly seems as if the smallest iPad and largest iPhone aren't as different as Apple would probably like you to believe. CNET has the convincing snapshot to prove it.
So if you have an iPhone 6 Plus, are on the waiting list to get one, or plan on grabbing one in the future, do you really need an iPad mini 3? This could very well explain why Apple -- pun alert -- phoned it in with its smallest tablet on Thursday.
Differentiation could be a problem for Apple. It's something that its mobile computing nemesis Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) knows all too well. Google puts out Android and updates the operating system as open source, but then it's up to several manufacturers to put out the gadgetry without checking with one another. As the lone source of iOS phones and tablets one would think that Apple would be able to sidestep the problem that it potentially finds itself in today where one product's success may come at the expense of another.
Mark your calendar for Monday
Glossing over the new iPad mini comes at a precarious time for Apple's tablet business. The class act of Cupertino was quick to point out how it has sold a record 225 million iPads in its first four years on the market, and how the 70 million tablets that Apple has sold over the past year is more the number of PCs that any single manufacturer has shipped in that time.
However, the trend itself is not very comforting. When Apple sold 16% fewer iPads during its fiscal second quarter than it did a year earlier it blamed overzealous retailers that had stocked too many of Apple's tablets during the holiday quarter. The market bought it, even if skeptics grew concerned about what that suggested about its fiscal first quarter growth. Then Apple followed that up with a 9% year-over-year dip in iPad sales during its fiscal third quarter. We'll get another snapshot when Apple releases it fiscal fourth quarter results on Monday afternoon, but it wouldn't be a shock if tablet sales continue to languish. Tablet sales are slumping and the larger iPhone isn't going to help.
The new iPad mini 3 is certainly an upgrade to last year's iPad mini 2. It doesn't have the same A8 chip that's powering the iPad Air 2, but it still introduces fingerprint scanning technology as it raises the specs on the petite-sized tablet line. That's great, but one has to wonder if the days of the iPad mini are numbered. Apple barely gave it a mention on Thursday. It may not mention the iPad mini 4 at all next year if the iPhone 6 Plus does some serious cannibalization in its rookie year.