Wednesday, October 31, 2012 at 12:07 pm.

The iPod Mini Effect: The iPad Mini Should Be So Lucky

Apple’s iPad mini goes on sale this Friday, and big questions for Apple include: How will it affect overall iPad sales? Will it cannibalize bigger, more expensive iPads? Will it sell out, despite a price premium over competitors like Amazon’s Kindle Fire?

Based on early reviews, it appears the iPad mini is on the verge of becoming the “real” iPad. That is, the full-size iPad (“iPad classic”?) will still exist indefinitely, but most people will end up buying the iPad mini. It’s less expensive, easier to handle, with the main immediate tradeoff — lower display resolution — something that most people won’t hold against it, if they even notice it. (Let’s not forget that most people on the planet have never seen a retina display, let alone purchased a retina iPad.)

Apple has, of course, seen this movie before. The iPod mini, introduced in 2004, was a catalyst that sent iPod sales through the roof, bringing millions of new buyers to the iPod and to Apple in general. It wasn’t perfect, either — it had a much smaller storage capacity than the bigger iPod, and wasn’t that much cheaper — but it was cheaper enough and fun and colorful and small and people loved it.

In 2003, the year before the iPod mini launched, Apple shipped 1.5 million iPods. In 2004, after the iPod mini went on sale in February, Apple shipped 8.3 million iPods — more than 5X as many.

iPod Mini chart

That multiplier is probably not going to happen here: Apple has already shipped 58 million iPads over the past year, and I’m not sure Foxconn could even make 300 million iPads over the next year if Apple asked it to. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the iPad mini at least helped Apple double iPad sales year-over-year by the time supply and demand is in sync.

There are many reasons why the iPad isn’t the iPod all over again, or at least not exactly the same story. These range from competition to supply constraints to overall growth of the mobile device market to Apple’s already massive popularity. But I think it’s safe to say the iPad mini is going to be huge for Apple — and huge for Tim Cook’s prediction that the tablet market will outgrow the PC market.