Apple CEO Tim Cook takes the stage during Apple's iPhone launch earlier this month.

Photo: Reuters

How will Apple convince us we need the iPad Mini?

The launch of an iPad Mini is looking more and more likely, but it's not really Apple's style to offer us choice. It likes to tweak its products to ensure they don't take a bite out of each other's sales. Apple doesn't want you to choose between iPads, it wants you to own one of each. 

Painting the iPad Mini as a poor man's iPad is exactly what Apple wants to avoid. 

It's very unlikely the iPad Mini will simply be a smaller iPad. It would be a major change of direction for Apple and seen as confirmation that Cupertino is feeling the pressure from Android. So what will Apple add to the iPad Mini and, perhaps more importantly, what will it leave out? I guess the real question is what task would an iPad Mini perform better than any other device, keeping in mind that Apple has spent the last few years telling us we don't need a smaller tablet.

Ditching the retina display is one obvious change, along with opting for a less powerful processor, although I don't think these limitations alone are enough to differentiate them. It would still paint the iPad Mini as a poor man's iPad, which is exactly what Apple wants to avoid.

Withholding 3G/4G access in favour of wi-fi-only models is another option. It might have made sense a few years ago, but that would seem a foolish move today considering a smaller iPad is most likely to appeal to people on the go. But it could be exactly the kind of frustrating limitation Apple relies on to ensure the iPad Mini doesn't eat too hard into iPad sales.

There's also talk of targeting the iPad Mini at the lounge room and pitching it as a glorified universal remote control -- perhaps with a built-in infrared transmitter or standalone IR blaster. You can already buy third-party IR blasters for exactly this purpose.

Strategically targeting the lounge room makes sense, as it presents the iPad Mini as a device which lives on the coffee table to perform a specific task without threatening the role of the iPad elsewhere in your life. It would kick off a whole new category of tablets rather than simply play catch up with the smaller Android competition. 

I'm not convinced that a large, fragile tablet-style universal remote would be more practical than something like a Logitech Harmony remote. A 4-inch iPod Touch would be more practical as a remote control than a 7-inch tablet. Even that wouldn't replace the old Harmony 785 on my coffee table, but Apple's marketing machine could open up the idea to a whole new audience which is yet to taste the power and convenience of a universal remote.

How do you think Apple will differentiate the iPad Mini? What would you want from such a gadget?