In a world where the cost of some technology is hotly debated and is completely dismissed for others, it only makes sense that Apple would release the iPad mini for free. I wrote a column back before the iPhone 4S was release called Why the iPhone 4S will be free - turned out it wasn't the iPhone 4S that ended up being free, but the iPhone 3GS - and that was indeed the first time any iPhone was offered up for free in a sales structure that remains today (with the iPhone 4 in that position at the moment). Apple will bring this structure to the iPad universe too - but it wont wait for its oldest models to fall into the $0 position to make it happen.
With the iPad mini being created with parts that add up to a price that's far less than the iPad, iPad 2, or iPad 3, Apple will have the ability to subsidize. Apple will not do this, however, as it does not follow the equation that's been working for them for a handful of very, very good years for the company. Instead you'll once again see an iPad that costs more to buy with a data connection than it does to purchase without.
In the future there will be an iPad that's free - the iPad mini could be that tablet. Apple could find a way to securely offer wireless data to the device that only works with their digital services - iTunes, the App Store, and iTunes Match (with its yearly cost still in-tact, of course). If Apple is able to offer data for free in such a way, they'd have a device that's leagues ahead of the competition.
The Google Nexus 7 is a fun tablet, so is the Amazon Kindle Fire HD, but they'd be crushed by an iPad mini if it were offered for even $50 above their base cost. Their sales won't necessarily slack once the iPad mini is released - if it's ever revealed, that is - but sales of an iPad mini with Apple's ecosystem intact would draw in the masses - including the die-hard Apple fans that, for whatever reason - haven't been able to pull the trigger with the larger iPad.
At $249 USD, a 7-inch Apple tablet with essentially any specifications (within reason) would sell millions of units in pre-orders alone. If Apple is able to work with carriers to offer the iPad mini on a 2-year data contract (as is standard with most smartphones and data-connected tablets today), Apple would break all iPad sales records, top to bottom. Free (even on a data contract that consumers would have to pay for month-by-month) would just be too good to pass up.
Would you agree to a free iPad mini if it were tied to a 2-year mobile data contract?
Be sure to check out the small iPad mini timeline below to get an OK idea of what the device may be bringing to the table and hit our Apple portal to keep up to date with all things iPad in the future!