On the similarities and differences behind the messages of the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HD, and iPad mini

The “tablets are only for consuming content” arguments generally dissolved after their purveyors submitted to the influence of reason. After all, plenty of traditional PCs aren’t used for anything more, but why is that use even a problem? I find it interesting, though, that those discussions never seemed to return with the debut of buzz-worthy seven-inch tablets like the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, or now the iPad mini. It is especially interesting if you consider the way each company positions their tablets.

[For the record: sure, the iPad mini is 7.9 inches, which technically fits under the umbrella of “sub-full-sized tablets that are generally 9.7–10.something inches diagonally, the sweet-spot size which allows for a relatively comfortable touch-screen keyboard in landscape orientation but still a realistic tablet weight, even if it requires two hands in many cases.” Since the iPad mini stretches that umbrella and the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 doesn’t fit under it at all, let’s go with “compact tablets” instead.]

In their initial consumer-facing “here’s our great new thing” videos, Google and Amazon position their compact tablets squarely as media consumption devices. In Google’s Nexus 7 video, which lasts just under two and a half minutes, the first use cases mentioned by Tim Quirk, Head of Global Content Programming, Android, Tim Quirk, are music, books, games, movies, and finally apps. In other words: “entertainment, entertainment, entertainment, entertainment, and the other stuff that probably doesn’t qualify as entertainment.” Real-world use cases, in order of appearance, are:

  • opening a book
  • answering email
  • playing a game
  • flipping through a magazine
  • Google Maps

Amazon’s Kindle Fire video, clocking in at a TV-friendly 30 seconds, spends almost as much time promoting Amazon’s website and shipping services as it does the Kindle Fire. It’s a subtle echo of CEO Jeff Bezos’s message that the Kindle Fire is perhaps even more of an extension of its maker’s overall ecosystem than the Nexus 7 is of Google’s.

The order of real-world use cases in Amazon’s video goes like:

  • reading a book
  • adult on a plane playing a game
  • a child playing a game
  • watching a movie
  • a video conversation
  • musician doing something I can’t make out—maybe playing piano and singing along to a music video
  • then the narrator wraps it all up with “22 million movies, TV shows, songs, apps, books, and more.”

Apple’s iPad mini video diverges from the compact tablet camp in a number of ways, not the least of which is time; it’s twice as long as Google’s at 4:44. It still has Apple’s traditional style of introduction videos which Google adopted, including monologues from a handful of executives and designers that gradually intersperse more and varied real world use cases of the product.

But, in a somewhat ironic move by a company hailed for obfuscating complex and debatably unnecessary details from consumers, Apple’s video delves much more into technical specifics like manufacturing processes, product dimensions, and screen resolutions. To be clear, I generally like that Apple does this because its fantastic build quality is a great product feature that I think deserves some spotlight time. I’m just acknowledging one can argue that Apple has spent a lot of time fighting against leaning on bulleted lists of tech specs, so it can be surprising to see so many of them in introduction videos like this.

Apple’s core message around the iPad mini is what might really set it apart from the competition—if consumers buy it. In his opening pitch, Johnny Ive lays it all out: “Our goal was to take all the amazing things you can do with the full-size iPad but pack them into a product that is so much smaller.”

In the video, the app and use case order of appearance is:

  • Calendar
  • a medical app displaying a 3D model of the heart
  • Photos
  • Mail (reading)
  • Flipboard
  • iPhoto
  • a “Global Product Performance” app
  • a media-heavy weather app
  • Camera
  • Videos (watching Brave)
  • an interactive book
  • Safari showing The Washington Post
  • Facebook
  • dinosaur book
  • iMovie, editing a movie
  • MLB
  • iTunes Store
  • iBooks
  • Real Racing 2 HD

It’s notable that, when it comes to showing basic productivity input tasks like typing, Google briefly shows someone typing an email one-handed at 1:07, and there is no tablet typing in Amazon’s video. The message in both videos is clear: our compact tablet and its platform are designed first and foremost for consuming all the media you love, then maaaaybe for some nebulous app-y stuff.

While Apple waited until 4:13 (nearly the end of the video) to show someone typing two-handed in landscape orientation with an app I can’t make out, it shows a fair number of productivity uses early on like Calendar, the 3D medical model, and a product performance app. There are also repeat mentions of Apple’s vast App Store library, stocked with over 275,000 iPad apps that cover nearly every use case you need. In other words, Apple’s message is: we believe the original iPad can be used for both content consumption and creation, and so can the iPad mini.

We’ll have to wait and see whether the market buys that message and the iPad mini’s build quality enough to make the premium price worth it. The combination of supremely one-hand-able weight (it’s even lighter than the Nexus 7), support for bluetooth keyboards (which is what plenty of iPad users seem to stick with anyway), and the App Store’s healthy selection of productivity apps might very well help it to pull ahead of the entertainment-centric competition for users who want to consume and create with one tablet.

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