The iPad Mini Seems Crazy ExpensiveS

There's almost no question that the iPad Mini is a terrific device; it's got too much pedigree and money behind it to be anything else. But barring some sort of miracle from on Ive, it's also certifiably overpriced. And that's a bad sign for Apple.

At first blush, the iPad Mini has a lot to recommend it relative to the competition. Apple's managed to put a bigger display on a thinner and lighter device, which—these days, especially—is mobile computing's endgame. iOS is the most mature tablet ecosystem by a good stretch, which is worth no small something. And it comes in 4G, which much of the 7-inch competition currently lacks.

But look a little closer. With products this small that weight difference amounts to barely noticeable fractions of a pound. At 7.9 inches the iPad Mini is bigger than the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7, but the whole point of a smaller tablet is to be, well, smaller. More portable. Oh, and speaking of that display: the iPad Mini's has 25% fewer pixels per inch compared to its Amazon and Google competitors. It doesn't just fall short of retina; it'll be noticeably worse.

That's partly because the iPad Mini's processor is a relatively underpowered dual-core A5, compared to the Fire HD's 1.2GHz dual-core OMAP and Nexus 7's quad-core Tegra 3. It just can't push that many pixels. Along those lines, it's safe to assume that the Mini has half the RAM of its competitors (although that doesn't matter much). Remember, too, that Amazon's got about as strong a garden as Apple's (and with weaker walls), and Google's catching up quickly.

All of which means that when you look at the iPad Mini next to the Kindle Fire HD and the Nexus 7, you get the impression that it's a pretty level playing field. And then you look at the prices.

The 16GB Wi-Fi iPad Mini costs $330, which is a whopping $130 more than the equivalent Kindle Fire HD. That's a 65 percent premium for a device that's not decidedly better in any way other than size and apps. It's only $80 (32 percent) more than the 16GB Nexus 7, but that may be for a limited time; Google's expected to cut prices drastically next week.

Put it another way: for $300—still 10-percent less than the 16GB iPad Mini—you can get a bigger, even more pixel-dense 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD, or a 32GB Nook HD Plus. The full price comparison chart is here, and almost defies belief.

There's a temptation to say that it's just Apple charging Apple prices, but that instinct is dated. The real genius of the original iPad wasn't just that it was first—it was also cheapest. It took competitors a full year to come up with a tablet that could even remotely compete at $500. Ditto the MacBook Air of the last several years; it set a price so low for ultrabook-style computers that Intel had to start a $300 slush fund to help PC manufactures hit that price point. The Apple of the last two years, thanks in large part to its Apple Store retail dominance, has been simply unbeatable. Until now.

Charging so much more for a product that's not clearly so much better is a major step backwards for Apple, especially given its unfamiliar position in the small tablet space as a follower. You don't enter an established market—Amazon's in its second generation of Kindle Fires already, and has millions of loyal customers at its disposal—by asking people to assume your offering is nearly two times better than what they already know to be great.

At best Apple's iPad Mini pricing is misguided; at worst, it's arrogant. Most of all, though, it's surprising, especially given how important smaller tablets are going to be for schools and kids, the trenches in which Amazon and Google are fighting for an entire generation of loyal users.

Is the iPad Mini great? Sure, probably. Will people buy lots and lots of them? Most likely. But they'll also decide to save themselves $130 more often than not. And, more importantly, they'll be back on the lookout for the Apple premium of old, the cool tax. There are plenty of things in this world worse than an overpriced gadget. But that doesn't mean we can't scratch our heads over Apple's missed opportunity—and worrisome future.