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Is The iPad mini A 'Must Have' Gadget?


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, we'll hear about what's hot and what's not in the world of restaurants from Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema. Interesting even if you don't eat out a lot. That's coming up later.

But first, we want to talk about what's hot in new technology. Apple showed off its iPad Mini yesterday and later this week Microsoft will debut the Surface tablet. We wanted to hear more about these new releases, so we've called upon Mario Armstrong. He is a digital lifestyle expert and a frequent guest on this program.

Welcome back, Mario. Thanks for joining us.

MARIO ARMSTRONG, BYLINE: Thanks for having me on, Michel.

MARTIN: So there's a new member of Apple's iPad family, the Mini. It looks like an iPad but...

ARMSTRONG: Yes, the Mini Me.

MARTIN: Mini Me.

ARMSTRONG: That's right. Which was the confusing part, when everyone went, ooh and ah, when they revealed it. It's like, what were you expecting it to be? It's going to be a smaller version of its bigger brother, the iPad, so that was the big anticipated announcement from Apple. They did make some other announcements as well, but this is important because this is at a time where the seven inch screen size, that tablet size, they're seeing a lot of competition from people like Google Nexus with their seven inch, the Amazon Kindle Fire, Nook. There are a lot of competitors in that particular size.

MARTIN: So why would people want this one? I mean I thought part of the appeal of the iPad was that it had a bigger screen, so why would people want the smaller screen?

ARMSTRONG: Well, you know, portability is big. No pun intended, but portability is something that people look for. I know for me and some other folks that I've talked to recently, sometimes you make a decision, especially when you travel a lot and you already carry your laptop - do you carry the 10-inch iPad with you wherever you go or would you opt for something smaller? Would it fit better in a backpack or in a purse?

So the seven-inch screen size tablet really did take off and I think that caught Apple and some others by surprise a little bit, so many people may like this because, if they really wanted a regular iPad, but don't want to spend the iPad money, this is the best option for you.

MARTIN: Is it competitively priced? Because some of those seven-inch tablets are pretty affordable. I mean they're so affordable, you see a lot of the advertisements show kids using them and, you know, obviously affordability is a matter of - you know, it depends on what your check is. But the fact is that they are priced to be affordable, and is this new iPad in the same vein?

ARMSTRONG: Apple's standard is to offer things at a premium price, so this one is priced at 329, and to your point, there are other seven-inch tablets, namely the Kindle Fire, that start at 159 and they go up from there. So there is some room.

I do think that 199 and below price point is still a huge market. I just think that Apple's decided they're not going to compete on price. They're going to compete on what Apple is known for, its brand, its quality of marksmanship in terms of how it's made, and when you hold the device, what I've been told - I haven't held it yet, but what I've been told by some of my very close friends that I respect - they say it absolutely feels much more sophisticated than any of the other $200 or less seven-inch tablets.

MARTIN: We're speaking with Mario Armstrong, our digital lifestyle expert. He's talking about what's new in the world of technology. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Okay, so tell us about the Surface tablet. That's Microsoft's new offering. Tell about that.

ARMSTRONG: This is a big deal, because Microsoft is coming out with their very own tablet called the Surface, as you mentioned. This will be around $500, so it's not inexpensive, but that's around the right price for a lot of other tablets as well. The thing about this, though, Michel, that's so important is that this is - they are banking so much on the success of Windows 8, which is the new operating system that's also being launched this week, and that new operating system will now run on mobile phones, on devices like their tablet, on computers, and even their gaming system.

And what they're hoping to do is create an ecosystem with all of these different products that are out there, all of these different devices, that will share the same operating system and thereby all boats will rise because people will be able to share their content and move across different devices more easily within the Windows world.

So if you've been waiting for a Windows device that can really step up to the plate, I've been playing around and testing and really checking out the Surface for the past few days. I'm impressed by it. There have been some ho-hum reviews. I don't see it. I think it's very impressive. I think they really took a gamble. They showed some creativity and innovation, but I think they had their backs up against the wall and this just shows Microsoft can get creative. They still need apps, though. They still need more apps in order for this to really take off.

MARTIN: So what's great about it? So what's Microsoft telling us what's great about it? What are the users telling us that's great about it? What can I do now with that that I couldn't do before?

ARMSTRONG: What Microsoft is saying is that it's giving you the best of both worlds. You're going to be able to have a tablet that you can touch, use the touch screen interface. It has all of these tiles, they call it, which are icons on the screen that refresh with information. So say, for example, you have Facebook posts coming in. You will be able to see that while it's happening. You won't have to open the app and then see what's going on. You get this glance-able information in real time.

The other thing, though, that's important is that Windows is still very entrenched in our society. People use a lot of PCs and they're used to Windows software, so the fact that this is not only just a tablet with touch screen capabilities but you can also push a button and it will change its screen to what they call the desktop view and it puts you into a similar PC environment - it has a keyboard, it has a little kickstand on the back of the unit so it can sit up proper and you can start typing right away. I just think it's really a smart approach towards a hybrid of kind of wanting a laptop but kind of wanting a tablet all put together in one.

MARTIN: So you see that people who have been traveling, both with a laptop, which is probably for work or for school, and with an iPad, which is, you know, often for, you know - maybe people do their personal finance on it or they do games on it, keep the kids busy, do fun stuff on it, watch movies. People are saying I don't want to carry two devices. I can carry one. Microsoft is saying this is the one.

ARMSTRONG: They're absolutely saying this is the one. The problem is there are others that are also saying the same thing. The Novo has a beautiful hybrid, which is the same kind of thing. It's like a laptop, but it's also a tablet screen. These types of form factors have been around for a while. Fujitsu made one that was heavy into the education space even before the iPads came out. Fujitsu was being used by educators and teachers with tablets plus also a laptop all in one. So that has been around.

The issue will be - will this be meeting people at a time when they're ready to really adopt hybrid devices, and do they have other Windows devices that they want to be able to use and interact with? In other words, if I buy content, if I buy programs, if I buy software and it's in the Windows world, then this might be the right product for me because I can use that same content and software across other Windows devices.

MARTIN: What is each company thinking in terms of the next phase of their development as a company, of their lives? I mean obviously, you know, Apple is still adjusting to the death of the founder, you know, Steve Jobs, and you know, finding its way there, and then Microsoft has not been making a lot of exciting, you know, news in recent years. So what's each company betting on?

ARMSTRONG: They're betting on mobility. They're betting on touch, and they're betting on the fact that they can create an ecosystem that people will want to be a part of. I think ultimately the big thing that I need or these companies need to start to realize is we can't just create technology for tech's sake. People need to start to feel that there are use cases that enable them to better their life through technology, and the companies that can help show how their devices, their products, their services, can help your life or help your business and really use use-case scenarios that mean something to you so there's relevance, those companies, I think, in the future will absolutely win.

But ultimately we're going to, you know, phases where the device becomes really not the issue. It's more the software and the experience will travel with you on whatever you're carrying. That could be your pair of eyeglasses. It could be in your automobile. It's not going to be so much more about the device, and that's why it's important now for companies like Google with Android, Microsoft with Windows 8, Apple with its iTunes and the Apple Store and it's ecosystem, for them to get people ingrained into their ecosystem now because we're just talking about devices in our hands.

Soon, this will be stuff that we'll be using in all types of areas and what ecosystem, are we married to when we really need our information or our productivity or the things that we want the most? It won't be about the device more than the software or the company that we've attached ourselves to.

MARTIN: Mario Armstrong is our digital lifestyle expert. He's a frequent guest on this program and he was kind enough to join us from member station WYPR in Baltimore, Maryland.

Mario, thank you.

ARMSTRONG: Thank you, Michel. I'll see you on the Internet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.