More iPad Minis may ship in 2013. Here’s what that means for retailers

By Richard Nieva , written on March 1, 2013

From The News Desk

It would be too premature to call it a sea change, but it at least looks like smaller tablets are here to stay. And in perhaps no industry is that more compelling than in-store retail.

In a blog post yesterday, David Hsieh, an analyst at Display Search, cited data that shows shipments of smaller tablets has increased dramatically since the beginning of this year. Hsieh also notes that, in a reversal of its shipment operations in 2012, Apple may ship more Minis than full sized iPads in 2013 – 55 million Minis to 33 million full-sized. Note that he says it may be a possibility, but it shows that the Mini has clearly found a foothold.

Some retailers, of course, already use the Mini, but many merchants are still going with big tablets. Dax Dasilva, CEO of the point of sales company LightSpeed, tells me that he believes the iPad Mini is a “gamechanger” in retail, simply because of the fact that its smaller size makes it more convenient for an employee on the retail floor to lug around all day. “The iPad Mini is a dream device for retail,” he says. “If you’re working an 8-hour shift, what would you rather be carrying?” he asks.

He’s a believer in the iPad Mini over smaller tablets and Android devices. His favor might seem skewed because LightSpeed’s service is only available on iOS, but he insists that’s not what made up his mind. He likes iOS's business ecosystem, and said Apple has a better reference platform, hardware support and deployment tools than Android. (But he said his company will consider Android and has already built a business logic engine that can power an Android device on the back end.)

While the Mini is more expensive, he says the iOS ecosystem for businesses trumps the affordability of Android. (At least for now, he says. He doesn’t count out Android in the future.) “The cost of the device is a small consideration,” he says, with the caveat that the size and scale of the business plays a role too.

Dasilva says there are too many flavors of Android devices for them to reach critical mass in terms of ecosystem. There are, of course, the standard Samsung devices, but there are also devices infiltrating the space in a niche way as well. For example, ElaCarte gives client restaurants an Android-based tablet called Presto to take food orders.

In any case, Hsieh’s report suggests smaller tablets are gaining quantifiable traction. And iPad Mini or not, if smaller tablets are the wave of the retail future like Dasilva thinks, there may be some best practices retailers could follow if they want to deploy them.

For one, keep the tablet naked. Add-on devices like card swipers tend to be a drain on battery life, and if a store has a limited number of devices, stopping to recharge is not an option. Having a stationary card swiper might be a better choice, he says. Another strategy might be to mix and match devices based on the task at hand. If you want to engage the customer, to, say, sell him a tie that goes with the shirt he’s picked out, use a Mini to make a good presentation. If the store is breakneck busy, go with a smartphone to checkout more efficiently.

And a regular iPad? Well, I guess just leave those behind the counter.