There are enough news media reports, may be they all came from the  same source, about the imminent iPad Mini (a smaller and cheaper version of iPad to compete against Kindle Fire and Nexus). AllThingsD is convinced Apple has ordered 8-10 million units.

First there were “confirmed rumors” about invites going out on October 10th. Now they have retreated to another “confirmed rumor” about October 23rd event.

It is possible all these sources are true and Apple will go on to release a iPad Mini. But I find it still difficult to see a scenario where the lower priced iPad Mini can deliver incremental (net new) profit.

An analyst on CNBC said,

It could be big for investors, said Sterne Agee’s Shaw Wu.

“Like other products, lower price points tend to drive sales. An iPad Mini we think would likely drive incremental iPad buyers,” Wu said in a phone interview with TheStreet. “There’s going to be some cannibalism of iPad sales, but we think it makes a lot of sense.”

I am not sure if Wu followed Apple’s pricing strategy so far. Besides he seems to miss the point that lower price points also kill profits. Apple, however, never chased market share. Shaw Wu is not alone on this, there are many stock analysts and others who seem to think “some cannibalism is not bad”.

Exactly how bad is the cannibalism? Well for starters it is not about sales volume or revenue, it is about profits. Contribution margin on iPad is 42%-50%. That is, $210 to $250.  Given that we are hearing (from analysts) either $199 or $299 price point for iPad mini and that we know from Amazon that they are selling KIndle Fire at cost, it is highly likely contribution margin from iPad mini is in the range $10-$100.

I cannot see a scenario Apple selling anything at cost.

So for each unit of $499 iPad cannibalized, Apple has to sell 2 to 25 iPad minis. If we assume average, that is 13.5 iPad Mini for every iPad sales lost. Is that doable? Let us look at recent market research numbers on customer preference for iPad in the presence of cheaper iPad mini (second degree price discrimination)

35% of iPad owners surveyed by deal aggregator TechBargains.com say they’d trade in their old model for the smaller tablet

However, only 18% of all respondents in the TechBargains survey say they want the new gadget,

These are not good numbers. Presence of lower priced iPad, packed with value, will cause more than one third of current iPad customers to trade down. This can be compensated only if the 18% of the total addressable market for iPad mini (those who will not buy $499 iPad) is greater than 35% of iPad market.

One way for Apple to reduce the magnitude of this trade down is to what railways did in the past with their third class cars. For railways there was a big market of low price travelers (and they had excess capacity). They wanted to attract these low price travelers but did not want to lose the high contribution margin from those second class (or first class) travellers trading down to cheaper third class.  So to ensure those who can afford will continue to choose the second or first class the railways removed roof from their third class cars.

Apple could do something similar and cripple their iPad mini such that only the most cost sensitive segment will self-select to this version while the higher willingness to pay segment will continue to prefer the full iPad. But that is complicated by the presence of really good alternatives at these lower price points.

Even for those who would buy an iPad mini, there are many options at the $199-$299 price points.

The $199 price point is crowded with feature rich tablets and there are two others delivering great value at $269 and $299 price point. Not to mention the $399 iPad2 which offers better value than a $299 iPad mini.  Apple cannot cripple its iPad mini and expect to win against these value packed alternatives.

The cannibalization does not end with just iPad. It also extends to iPad Touch.

At $199 and $299 price points Apple will compete with its other product line – iPod Touch. Since the 7″-8″ tablet will deliver lot more value than iPod Touch for the same price more will switch from these high contribution margin units.

Considering Apple’s practice of effective pricing (note the fact that they did not introduce a $199 new iPod Touch) and effective use of product versions at multiple different price points I do not see Apple entering this field. Even if they did, it is only 10-30% chance this new product will result in net new profits.