Since the beginning of the year (with a peak in July, thanks to this Bloomberg article), there have been rumors that Apple would launch an iPad mini with a 7.85-inch display. Speculation is now high that the launch could be announced October 17 — a week prior to the big Microsoft buzz about Windows 8 and in due time for the holiday rush and the seasonal year-end sales — in an attempt to lock new tablet buyers in to the iOS ecosystem. The biggest iPad mini conundrum is likely to be pricing — making sure that the new device remains competitive in the face of the iPad 2 and iPad 3 and the newly launched iPod Touch but also with Google's $199 Nexus 7 and the new $199 Kindle Fire HD. Don’t count on me to comment on rumors and share my personal take on the features the device could have, etc. Some of my colleagues are better placed than I am to make a call and will do so in due time.

Let’s step back from the hype for one moment.

It took two years for Apple to sell 67 million iPads versus 24 years to sell 67 million Macs. It took the company two years to sell one million iPods. Arguably, the iPod, coupled with the iTunes ecosystem, disrupted the music industry. Needless to say, new connected devices — mostly smartphones and tablets — will be even more disruptive. Forrester forecasts an installed base of 760 million tablets globally by 2016, and my colleague Frank Gillett has explained why we believe that tablets will run the personal computing landscape at work and at home.

However, few companies are providing dedicated tablet-optimized experiences. Most executives we've surveyed do not have a differentiated strategy for tablets; they lump smartphones and tablets into a single “mobile” bucket. That’s the wrong approach. Tablets are different from mobile phones; they are portable rather than really mobile, as compared to always-with-me, connected, and pocketable devices. The behaviors for which people use tablets are more similar to PC usage than mobile phone usage. Tablet owners report using their tablet browsers more than tablet apps. For now, tablets are mostly being used as Wi-Fi-only devices — most frequently in the living room, next most frequently in the bedroom — and often as second-screen devices. That’s why the tablet consumer computing experience is often referred to as the “lazy Internet.” Tablets are social devices: Almost half of tablet owners regularly share their tablets with at least one other person. In contrast, mobile phones are the most personal devices we own and use. They are, by nature, intimate devices that can leverage immediacy and context based on the end user environment.

For the growing percentage of consumers who will own both a tablet and a smartphone, this is a no-brainer. They will use tablets within the home as the most convenient service. This will, over time, cannibalize the time spent on smartphones at home — up to 50% of mobile usage for some services. Mobile phones will really become what they were designed to be: devices for on-the-go usage. So it will behoove product strategists to develop more contextualized services and, anticipating consumers’ next likely actions, to offer task-based oriented services.  

Boundaries between tablets, PCs, and even smartphones will only blur further with the launch of Windows 8 and the growth of tablets with a 7-inch form factor, as well as with the emergence of new form factors such as the hyped and so-called “phablets.” Samsung sold more than 10 million 5.3-inch-display Galaxy Notes — more than the number of Lumia devices sold by Nokia. Whether you consider these to be hybrid devices (in between a smartphone and a tablet) or supersized smartphones doesn't really matter. As in the case of a potential iPad mini, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 elevates the importance of the screen size.

As my colleague Charles Golvin once summarized it, it doesn’t make sense to try to stamp an immutable label on an entire class of devices (tablets, smartphones, etc.). They’re all part of a continuum of computing devices with at least two dimensions: mobility and connectivity. What matters most is understanding how and in which context your own consumers use these devices throughout the day and offering tailored experiences that make the most of the features each device enables.

I'm planning new research on this topic. Do you think tablets are “mobile” devices? Do you have a different strategy for tablets versus smartphones? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below or by reaching out to me (thusson at forrester dot com) to contribute to this new research.