Apple takes aim at Android and the Nexus 7 with the new, developer approved iPad Mini

As was widely anticipated, Apple unveiled the iPad Mini today, a smaller, 7.9 inch version of the now 100 million-selling family of iPads.

Although Steve Jobs swore off the idea of creating a smaller iPad in 2010, saying the smaller screen size wouldn’t provide a good user experience for the device’s software and apps, the growing popularity of smaller tablets seems to have changed Cupertino’s tune. Typically for Apple, today’s event was heavy on technical information and comparison shots, but most interesting comparisons Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller made weren’t made to other Apple devices — they were aimed squarely at Google’s Nexus 7.

According to today’s presentation, the iPad Mini offers 29.6 inches of screen real estate, compared to the Nexus’ 21.9. This, according to Schiller, translates into seeing between 49 and 67 percent more on your screen while browsing the web, even though the Nexus 7 has a larger 1200 x 800 screen resolution.

The iPad Mini’s 1024 x 768 resolution may be slightly smaller that the Nexus 7’s, but it gives the device the same resolution as the iPad 2. This means native iPad apps will look natural on the device — no upscaled phone apps, no downscaled iPad apps, and no new resolution for iOS developers to deal with.

While today’s product announcement may not have been totally surprising, the developers we spoke to were excited by the market potential of the iPad Mini.

Supercell, the Finnish company that recently revealed it was earning more than $15 million a month on iOS, is betting the iPad Mini’s new lower price point and size will be attractive to consumers, many of whom might have been considering purchasing an Android-based tablet like the Nexus 7.

“I think the comparisons they showed demonstrate exactly why the experience is superior on the Mini.  Right now, it’s tough to see how others will be able to compete with the Mini,” says Greg Harper, the company’s general manager, North America. “There is actually very little we need to change to bring our games to the Mini. It is a big win for us.”

Today’s news was also good for Supercell given the fact that the company credits its “tablet-first” development strategy for much of its success — Harper tells us his company’s revenues are equally split between the iPad and the iPhone, despite the fact that iPhones have a much larger install base than iPads.

“We’ve always said that the best games on any platform are the ones that are developed from the ground up for it where you don’t make any compromises to support another platform.  That has been our approach, and so far, it’s been working pretty well for us,” he says. “With the introduction of the Mini and continued strong growth of iPads, I expect we will most likely continue to see our iPad revenue increase as a percentage of our total revenue.”

DeNA’s North American subsidiary Ngmoco is also optimistic about the tablet.  “Whenever Apple jumps into a category it increases awareness of the devices for consumers and creates a rising tide that will float all boats,” says Doug Scott, the company’s VP of marketing and revenue.

The iPad Mini is also going after the Nexus 7 in terms of price. The 16GB Wi-Fi version of the iPad Mini is $329, which makes it significantly more expensive than the Kindle Fire, but only $130 more than a Nexus 7.  It’s a pricepoint that allows Apple to keep its longstanding “premium product, premium price” mentality, while indirectly allowing the iPad Mini to compete with the Nexus 7 for the lower end of the tablet market.
The mood at Google headquarters is likely mixed after today’s announcement. While the size, price, presentation and very existence of the iPad Mini all  validate the impact Android is beginning to have on the tablet market, it seems Apple isn’t willing to let the Nexus 7 take a share of the tablet market without a fight.  With Apple now willing to compete on user experience and price, the race to lock up the lower end of the tablet market will be a hard contest for Google to win if its efforts to improve Android tablet experiences don’t bear fruit.