Fact-checking Phil Schiller on iPad Mini vs. Nexus 7

Was Apple exec Phil Schiller correct in his charges against the Android tablet? More importantly, was it even fair to compare the two devices? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no.

Apple executive Phil Schiller trashed the Nexus 7 when showing the iPad Mini. James Martin/CNET

Apple is growing concerned over Android tablets' momentum. How do I know? Today, the company's senior vice president of marketing, Phil Schiller, spent a fairly unusual amount of time talking about them.

During the iPad Mini announcement this morning, Schiller got in quite the zinger when he said that "others have tried to make tablets smaller than the iPad, and they've failed." What's more, he claimed that there is a "gigantic difference" between the iPad Mini and Nexus 7 before leveling a number of charges against the Android device. I'll admit that some of them may have been deserved, but let's take a look at a few of them to see if they hold water.

To balance things out a bit, I'll discuss a few things that were not said today that are important when deciding on a new tablet. The stuff that wasn't said is just as important, right?

The iPad Mini's 7.9-inch display vs. the Nexus 7's 7-inch display
Schiller was quick to suggest that there's a huge difference when you tack on that 9/10th of an inch. Sure, when factoring in the total viewable screen, the iPad Mini has 29.6 inches of space where the Nexus 7 has 21.9 inches. But is that really a big deal? Though Schiller says yes, let's take his logic and apply it elsewhere.

I'd be curious to hear what he thinks of the difference between the iPhone 5's 4-inch screen and, say, the 4.8-inch display on Samsung's Galaxy S3. And what about the even larger Galaxy Note 2? Would those differences not be considered gigantic, too? Also, while some might argue that it's resolution that really matters, the iPad Mini's 1,024x768-pixel resolution doesn't quite stand up to the Nexus 7's 1,280x800-pixel screen.

The iPad Mini offers 49 percent more Web browsing space than the Nexus
Again, it's difficult to argue with real numbers, but opinions are another matter. I have my own, but I don't claim that they're infallible. So when Schiller showed the Guggenheim Museum Web site, it was clear that the iPad Mini offers more space. But I don't buy Schiller's claim that the open tabs at the top of Chrome and buttons do not matter to the browsing experience.

I happen to love being able to hop from one open tab to another. The soft keys across the bottom come in very handy when going back or jumping to another Android app. Yes, it's true that they don't specifically factor into the Web experience, but many Android users like them. And their opinion isn't wrong because Apple says so.

Android tablet apps are inferior to iPad titles
This one could be argued on both sides. I'll admit that Android tablet apps could still use some polish. Generally iOS apps are of higher quality and usually look better than their Android counterparts. On the other hand, many Android apps have been written for Android 4.0 and later, most of which employ the Holo aesthetic.

Also, while I'm being honest, Android developers do not have to write for tablets now that we've gone back to unifying the platform at Ice Cream Sandwich. Apps can revert to scaling on a larger display, yes, but that's only if the developer doesn't write them to perform differently. Should developers take advantage of the tools at their disposal, they can write one app that operates and displays differently across many sizes. To me, this sounds better than writing one for phones and another for tablets.

The plastic feel and large bezel of the Nexus 7 aren't as beautiful as the iPad Mini's aluminum finish
In the words of The Dude from "The Big Lebowski," I would say, "Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man." Yes, black, silver, and chrome can often be sexy in a phone or tablet. Yet, that doesn't mean all consumers will want it. In fact, I've come to appreciate the rubbery grip of the Nexus 7 that keeps me from dropping it. That said, the iPad Mini is a sharp-looking device. In fact, it's a thin, light, and stunning device. And that brings me to the next point of weight and thickness.

I find it ironic that Apple only brings up how thin and light its products are when it matters. As we learned today, the iPad Mini is only 7.2 millimeters thick (0.28 inch) and weighs in at a featherlike 308 grams (0.68 pound). Thinking back to the iPhone 5 announcement, we were repeatedly told just how thin and light it was, and that it was a fraction of the previous iteration.

Going back to the iPad 3, Apple said very little of the fact that it actually was fatter and heavier than its predecessor. At 9.4mm thick (0.37 inch), that porker of a fourth-generation iPad is nearly 7 percent fatter than the iPad 2. I suppose it's all in the perspective, eh?

For all the things that were said today, it's perhaps the one thing they didn't mention that stands out. Nowhere in all of this Nexus 7 trashing did Apple's people indicate that they were comparing its new $329 device to a 4-month-old tablet with a price of $199. And for those who say four months doesn't really matter, I remind you that Apple replaced its current iPad in only six months' time. Is it really fair to compare your hot new product with something when yours is noticeably more expensive? Of course there are going to be differences.

Processing power
Wrapping up, there also was very little discussion of the processor inside the iPad Mini. While we heard how wonderful the A6X chipset is in the fourth-generation iPad, the details about its smaller counterpart were largely glossed over. We know it's an A5, but we also know that the Nexus 7 has a quad-core Tegra 3 chip. So at least on paper, the Android tablet bests the Apple tablet on multiple fronts.

Finally, we have to consider that the 32GB Nexus 7 is rumored to replace the current 16GB model and retain the same $249.99 price. Do we then compare the 32GB iPad Mini and its $429.99 sticker? If so, then the new Apple tablet could be construed as being 72 percent more expensive than its closest competitor.

Indeed, stats can work in your favor if and when you choose to employ them. As your favored presidential candidate can attest (it doesn't matter which one), it's easy to throw out facts and figures when they work to your advantage. Where technology differs from politics, though, is that it is even easier to confuse facts with opinions.

Today I was reminded that as long as you are talking about your competitor's deficiencies, you don't have to worry about your own. In other words, the more things change...well, you know the rest.

 

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