When you were growing up, did you ever do that thing where you put empty crisp packets in the oven? (Under parental supervision, of course.)
Do it right and the packets would shrink to a fraction of their former size, leaving you with a tiny but ultimately pretty useless crisp packet.
For some reason, that's the image that came to mind when I first saw iPad mini, the latest addition to Apple's iPad range. It's like a normal iPad that's shrunk.
Announced on Tuesday, iPad mini has a 7.9" screen, making it a bit bigger than the iPhone 5 and a bit smaller than the 10" iPad 3 (could this now be called the iPad maxi, or does that sound too much like a feminine hygiene product?).
Introducing iPad mini is a logical move for Apple. Recent months have seen a number of high-profile 7" tablets hit the market, including Amazon's Kindle Fire HD and the Google Nexus 7. Anyone who wanted a smaller tablet simply hasn't had an Apple product to consider.
And there definitely is a market for these compact tablets. They can be useful for super-portable computing, because they're big enough to use productively but small enough to squeeze into an already-full bag or even slip into a suit pocket.
But with iPad mini prices starting at £269, Apple risks pricing itself out of a lot of sales. Those competing tablets both come in at £100 or so under iPad mini's base price. And they both have better screens - which is surprising when you remember that the big wow factor of the larger iPad is its incredibly crisp Retina display.
Of course, iPad mini is bound to still have Apple's legendary build quality, and will run the vast range of existing iPad apps. But it's not a guaranteed success.
One of the reasons the larger iPad has done so well is that Apple was the first company that got tablet computers right. There had been other attempts before, but nobody had created a tablet computer that was as stylish, practical, simple and genuinely useful as the iPad. (The same was true of the iPhone and its touch screen.)
But things have moved on since then. I don't think Apple can simply shrink its iPad, slap a big price tag on it and assume people will come running.
What's more, people who've already bought into the Apple way of doing things probably already have an iPhone or an iPad. Will they really want another touch screen device that's just a slightly different size?
I'm not convinced. If it was £100 less, Apple would sell out in moments. It would make a big dent in the tablet prospects of Amazon and Google. Yet at £269 it looks like an expensive gadget, and many businesses will struggle to justify it over its competitors.
How about you? Could you use an iPad mini in your business?
Last week’s launch of the new iPad was met with the excitable coverage that inevitably accompanies any Apple product announcement. But beneath the hype, does the new iPad herald wider business adoption of tablet computers?
In November 2011, a study of IT adoption trends among UK small and medium businesses (SMEs) found 37% were using tablet computers. Another 37% said they were planning to purchase them.
So there’s a definite enthusiasm for and move towards tablet computers like the new iPad. And perhaps the emergence of cheaper competitors will accelerate this trend.
The real beauty of tablet computers is their portability. Their smart design, integrating everything into one neat, light panel, makes them ideal for use on the move.
They’re particularly useful for visual tasks, like running presentations or referring to spreadsheets, websites or designs when visiting a client. Many tablets let you take notes using a stylus or digital pen. Some will even convert your handwriting into type.
Tablet computers tend to cost the same as, or a bit less than laptop computers. But can you really replace a laptop with a tablet? And would you want to?
Tablet are fun to use, at least initially. If you’re not used to using a fast, intuitive touch screen then your first days with a tablet can be really enjoyable.
However, when it comes to processing power, laptops have the edge. The latest iPad has heaps of power by tablet standards, but it won’t hold a candle to many laptops. Still, for everyday tasks that may not matter. You won’t notice a great deal of different when browsing the internet or using email.
If you’re considering buying a tablet, think carefully about how you plan to use it. Typing on a touch screen can be awkward and may even be harmful. At least one study has found tablet users have a higher potential for neck and shoulder discomfort.
“It’s best to avoid typing for any length of time directly on a tablet computer,” warns back pain therapist Diksha Chakravarti. “It’s better to use a peripheral keyboard and stand, and remember to take regular breaks to stretch.”
A real bonus for tablet users is that the battery life of these slate-type devices tends to be much better than that of laptops. Your typical tablet computer’s battery will last more than twice as long as your average laptop’s.
This is partly due to the lower power demands of the solid state storage tablets rely upon. They also have other components specifically designed to minimise power use.
One of the trade-offs for this efficiency is in storage space. Tablets are able to hold much less data than your average laptop. Using cloud-based storage can make up the shortfall.
Indeed, tablets and cloud computing are natural partners. Touch screens lend themselves well to navigating web-based applications and you can get a whole host of business tools designed specifically for tablets.
What’s more, because these tools are hosted online (in the cloud), they put less strain on your tablet’s own storage capacity and processing power and are generally more secure, because the data isn’t stored on your easily-stolen tablet.
If you currently rely on a laptop as your main computer, replacing it with a tablet is probably not a good idea. Although tablets are super-portable and enjoyable to use, you’ll miss your laptop’s power, storage capacity and keyboard.
However, as a mobile device to complement your main desktop or laptop computer, a tablet can be ideal. Used in combination with the right cloud-based applications, it can seriously increase your productivity.
Over the years, new types of computer have come and gone. Remember the ultra-mobile PC? Or the Amstrad E-m@iler? I wonder why Alan Sugar never mentions that on The Apprentice. And whatever happened to tablet computers with rotatable screens, built-in keyboards and a stylus for writing on the screen?
But every now and then, something comes along that does change things. And at the end of last year, a piece of news suggested that one new kind of computer is having a real impact – both at home and in the workplace.
Apple’s iPad reigns supreme in the UK tablet computer market. It accounts for almost three-quarters of all tablet sales. And perhaps most impressively, it turns out that Apple is selling more iPads than Dell is selling laptop computers.
Given that Dell is one of the world’s biggest computer manufacturers (the company claims it ships over 10,000 systems a day), that’s astonishing. And it strongly suggests that long-term, the iPad – plus other tablet computers, should anyone start buying them – could have a huge impact on what sort of computers we use and how we use them.
People are embracing the iPad enthusiastically, swapping full-spec laptops for the thin, light, super-easy-to-use Apple gadget. Who can blame them? No long waits while it starts up, no fiddly keys or buttons ... just a touchscreen anyone can use, plus thousands of apps.
It’s not a stretch to say that 2012 could see tablet computers establish themselves as the mobile computing tool of choice. Unless you need a full-size keyboard, it’s becoming more difficult to see what benefits are offered by traditional laptops for typical on-the-move tasks like checking email or reviewing documents.
Just ask the companies which sell netbooks, the small, cheap, low-powered laptops that just a few years ago were poised to reshape the PC industry. Things don’t look great for them: sales have slumped 40%. Blame is being laid at the door of the iPad.
The argument stands up: to many people, netbooks are just compromised laptops. If you can’t type comfortably on the keyboard and you have to squint to see the screen, a tablet computer might well be a better option.
What’s more, machines like the iPad are developing fast. Will the combination of impressive hardware and versatile apps persuade more people to swap their netbook or laptop for a tablet?
Laptop makers certainly are worried. You can tell, because the big players are rushing to release ultrabooks, another type of computer which is like a netbook but thinner, more powerful and much more expensive.
These sleek machines have enough punch to replace your desktop computer, but are designed to start instantly and be small enough to take anywhere. They look great, they perform well and – although they can be expensive – they’re finding a spot in the market.
But hold on – guess who makes the most successful ultrabook. Yep, that’s right: it’s Apple again, this time with the MacBook Air. This is the computer which pretty much defined what an ultrabook should be – and it certainly represents what other ultrabook manufacturers aspire to.
Put aside the ultrabook vs. netbooks vs. laptops vs. tablets debate. The real story might be Apple itself, and whether it can take a much bigger slice of the business IT market in 2012.
You can play solitaire on your iPad too... (Image: bark on Flickr.)
It’s impossible to deny that the iPad has been a real sales success. Apple sold 9.25m of them in the last quarter alone. It might only be a matter of time before iPads become another piece of equipment that people bring to work – just like their mobile phone.
But is there a place for the iPad in your company?
The iPad’s usefulness as a business tool has been questioned, not least on this very blog! But for many, it’s proving to be a revolutionary device. It’s easy to hold, easy to transport and easy to use.
It uses the same operating system and interface as the iPhone, and doesn’t bother with conventional input devices like a mouse or keyboard. You just tap, swipe and drag your fingers on the screen.
Part of the iPad’s success is certainly down to the wide availability of apps. You can download nearly 100,000 of them, covering every category from entertainment and media to productivity and business.
It’s these apps that really enable you to make productive use of an iPad in the workplace. Here are some specific scenarios where you might want to consider using an iPad:
Software like Apple’s Keynote lets you import and edit PowerPoint presentations, and you can even hook it up to a monitor or projector (if you don’t mind buying an adaptor from Apple).
There are also applications available that will let you do ‘virtual presentations’ – so you can show your presentation to people on the internet.
There’s a built-in calendar and address book, so it’s a good replacement for a paper planner – and the larger screen means it’s easier to read than your mobile phone.
You can also choose from a range of apps to manage your tasks, monitor projects, share files, read and post items in social networks and more.
You can even use it as a point-of-sale device (like a till). Other companies are using iPads to replace printed manuals, and some schools are using it in place of stacks of books.
There are lots of other ways the iPad can be used for business. Are you considering using one in your company as well? And if your company doesn’t own its own iPads, would you be happy for staff to bring in their own? Leave a comment and let us know.
Word has reached us (thanks PC Pro) that Dixons will slash the price of HP's TouchPad Tablet PCs from 6pm today. According to the company's Mark Webb, you'll be able to pick up the 16GB version of the tablet computer for £89. The larger 32GB version will cost £115.
The reason for the huge reduction? HP announced last week that it's pulling out of the tablet computer business, triggering a fire sale in the US that now looks like it'll be mirrored over here.
With these products previously retailing for £400 or more, and competitors like the iPad 2 similarly expensive, this does look like a real bargain. But even if you can get on the Dixons site to buy one (we're predicting enormous demand for the limited supply), is it worth it?
You'll be paying around £100 for a tablet PC with no real app 'ecosystem' (so there's not much you can install onto it). Still, you'll be able to browse websites, watch video and use maps. And that might be enough to persuade many people to part with the cash. We're seriously considering it.
But do be aware of the limitations if you're tempted. Going by this review you can expect sluggish performance compared to an iPad 2, limited (or non-existent) abilities to load and edit Microsoft Office documents, and a unit that's less-pleasing to hold than many of its competitors. There's another review here to help you make a snap decision.
Despite these drawbacks, a bargain HP TouchPad might still be worthy of consideration if you want to dip a toe in the world of tablet computing. HP is promising to provide support for the tablet, and expects customers to continue to receive updates and enhancements.
Don't expect the TouchPad to match an iPad, In fact, to be safe, see it as a web browser that can play video and show you maps, and not much else. But even with those relatively low expectations, this is one £100 tablet that could be a bit of a bargain.
Add a keyboard and perhaps your iPad will be more useful. (Photo: Stefan Evertz)
It's hard to deny that the iPad 2 is cool. And if you weren't one of the crazy enthusiastic punters who queued up last week to get one, demand for Apple's new gadget means that if you want one, you're probably in for a bit for of a wait.
Maybe we should all use that time to step back and ask: is the iPad actually much use for business? And, for that matter, do other tablet and slate-type devices like Motorola's Xoom or Samsung's Galaxy Tab really deserve a place in your company?
I don't own an iPad, nor any other kind of slate or tablet computer. A few years back, I used Toshiba's M200 Tablet PC as my main work computer, but although it was one of the best laptops I've ever had, I rarely used the tablet features (you could fold the screen over and use a pen to write on it).
Sure, there's a big difference between Microsoft's clunky attempt to adapt Windows for a tablet device - which was running on that computer - and Apple's super-slick interface. But ease-of-use alone is not enough to establish the iPad as a must-have business tool.
The business applications I've seen for the iPad so far have been limited. I've spotted people at events using them to sign people up to mailing lists. And I can see how they'd be useful for people who need access to information but are on their feet all day. iPads could replace clipboards in warehouses, dentists' surgeries and the like.
But what about the sort of repetitive business tasks you take care of every day? Writing letters and emails. Running accounting software. Accessing your customer relationship management system.
For these sorts of jobs, my distinctly un-glamorous netbook (a cheap, cut-down laptop) is far better than an iPad. Here's why:
In fact, the more I think about it, the more it seems that the only advantage that slate devices offer is that you can use them standing up. If there's a desk or space where I can sit and type at my netbook, it's the better option. Although, to be fair, I won't look as cool.
What's more, a netbook like mine is cheap. Figure £250 or so for a very capable netbook, compared to £399 for the entry level iPad.
Is it just me who can't see the point of the iPad for businesses? Do you use one in your company? Leave a comment and let me know.