Apple's quest for love in the age of tablets

Google, Amazon, Samsung, Microsoft and others will be vying for customer affection with renewed vigor as Apple throws down the gauntlet.

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Tim Cook came prepared to dazzle the crowd of Apple employees, friends and journalists covering the iPad, iMac and Macbook product unveilings. Dressed in Apple casual, a long-sleeved, blue-grey polo shirt and dark slacks, Cook stalked the stage at the California Theater in San Jose and seemed to find a more animated voice for his remarks than at past events he hosted.

He gave special vocal emphasis to words like "billion," "amazing," "cool," "phenomenal," "absolutely incredible,"  and "thin," one of the major product themes of the day. Cook lacked the ease of  Bill Clinton and the drama of Steve Jobs, but he effectively communicated Apple's fight song: We blow away the competition and make the coolest products.

Cook crowed that Apple has sold 100 million iPad in 2.5 years, and that the iPad outsold PC sales from HP, Dell, Lenovo and Asus in the quarter ending June 30. He asked rhetorically why the iPad is so popular, and answered, "Well, it turns out there's a simple reason: people love their iPads!"

See CNET's full coverage of Apple's iPad Mini event

He continued, "They love the display. They love the camera for FaceTime. They love that they can connect anywhere they go on Wi-Fi or cellular. They love iPad's legendary all day battery life. And they love all of the amazing apps optimized for iPad." 

In closing Cook said, "We hope you love these products as much as we loved creating them."  

As the Beatles say, "Love is all you need," and Apple is all about making customers love the company and its products. Cook and company understand that love and obsession are  currencies that can overcome many obstacles. It's part of the Jobs legacy, an obsession with creating beautiful and functional objects that people will crave. 

The iPhone is the best example of Apple's ability to create demand through love, or at least desire. It's a fine, highly-regarded smartphone, but there are many alternatives that offer more features, bigger screens and better pricing. Google claims that its Android mobile platform is getting 1.3 million activations per day. Nonetheless, people ordered 5 million iPhone 5s in their first weekend of availability. 

Now the iPad has a little brother or sister with the iPad mini, and Apple hopes that its customers will love it just the same. In describing the iPad mini via a marketing video, chief designer Jony Ive talked about the development of the iPad mini like a Swiss watchmaker reinventing the wristwatch. 

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"There is inherent loss in just reducing a product in size....We took the time to design a product that was a concentration of, not a reduction of, the original," he said. He explained that the design efforts resulted in "absolutely remarkable levels of fit and finish."     

Apple may take pride in the loveliness and fit and finish of the iPad mini, but it was fundamentally built to compete in a growing tablet space that the company did not occupy. Google, Amazon, Samsung, Asus, Barnes & Noble and others were first to develop 7-inch tablets and Apple is the latecomer.

During the launch event, Apple marketing chief expressed distain for the competition. "We are so far ahead of the competition, I can't even see them in the rear view mirror." he said.

Read: iPad Mini vs. Google Nexus 7 vs. Amazon Kindle Fire HD

But Apple has more selling to do to make the iPad mini the most lovable 7-inch tablet. Starting at $329 with 16GB of storage and a 7.9-inch 1024x768 pixels (163 ppi) display, the iPad mini may be thinner and lighter than its 7-inch competitors, but it's also more expensive and employs  a lower-resolution screen. During the launch presentation, Schiller compared the iPad mini to a Google Nexus 7 (made by Asus), dissing Google's use of plastic instead merged molecules of aluminium for the exterior and for its smaller screen area. He also noted that Apple has 275,000 iPad-optimized apps, far more than what is available for Android tablets.

But neither Cook or Schiller touched the price differential between the iPad mini and competing Android models. The Nexus 7 is priced at $249 with 16GB of storage and a 7-inch 1280x800 HD display (216 ppi). The iPad mini's claim to the thin and light crown (308 grams, .28-inch thick) may be enough to sway customers to pay nearly $80 more than the Nexus 7 (340 grams, .41-inch thick) costs.  

Tim Cook says that Apple will keep pressing to win love, respect and money from customers. "We are just getting started. We're not taking our foot off the gas," he said during the event.

Google, Amazon, Samsung, Microsoft and others will also be vying for customer affection with renewed vigor as Apple throws down the gauntlet. In this situation, with multiple suitors, customers end up as win as companies iterate faster to deliver iteration better, faster and cheaper wares. Apple will have its core of lovers, but the field is expanding and becoming more wide open.

Apple's 'little' event

 

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