Why Apple Might Be Game for a 7-Inch iPad
Despite Apple CEO Steve Jobs' public bashing of smaller, 7-inch tablets, rumors have arisen that Cupertino may actually roll out a miniature iPad when the device's second generation is revealed. It's far from a sure bet, but also not completely out of the question. A little spin, some careful naming, a dash of Apple's marketing talent and a focus on games could give an "iPad mini" legs.
By now, just about everyone and their grandma who actually does any sort of product research online before buying any gadget knows that Apple is going to introduce a new iPad -- let's just called it "iPad 2" -- sometime in early 2011. It may even be as soon as late January, because that's when Apple introduced the first iPad, and Apple likes to introduce new generations of products once a year or so.
Makes sense. It's also clear that a new iPad will sport front and back cameras, and you don't have to see grainy photos secreted out of some manufacturing facility in Asia to believe it. If you know FaceTime, it's clear Apple will produce the dual-side camera system.
What has surprised me, though, is the new rumor that Apple is planning on launching a new, smaller iPad. Not exactly an iPad mini or iPad nano (that would be the iPod touch, no?), but something new in the seven-inch screen size range. The current iPad screen is 9.7 inches, while the iPod touch screen is 3.5 inches on the diagonal. Oh, and in case you like math, the middle screen size between the two would be 6.6 inches -- not that it matters exactly, anyway, because the actual size will have more to do with the number of pixels that Apple will want to fit into the form factor, along with the individual pixel size and manufacture of the screen itself.
But didn't Apple CEO Steve Jobs just publicly bash little tablets? Yes, yes he did. In October on Apple's quarterly financial report conference call with investors, Jobs took a moment to address an "avalanche of tablets poised to enter the market in the coming months." He said that while there would only be a few credible entrants, almost all of them use seven-inch screens, and more to the point, a seven-inch screen size "isn't sufficient to create great tablet apps."
Now, if Apple simply increased the resolution by jamming in more pixels, we'd get the oxymoronic effect of a larger screen even in a small form factor, but still, a bunch of tiny pixels doesn't make tapping and swiping with your fingers any easier. "There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them," Jobs said. "This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps."
He went on to say that seven-inch tablets are "tweeners" -- too big to compete with a smartphone and too small compete with an iPad.
In fact, when I first heard this, I thought about all the newspapers and magazines and awesome specialized books that are being created for the iPad -- not to mention Web browsing -- and I thought, "Why would anyone really want a mini-tablet, anyway? They are too bulky to easily carry around and yet far too small for serious work."
There's more to consider, though.
Bring on the Tweeners!
As an iPhone 4 owner, I have a hard time buying an iPod touch. Sure, there's plenty of great uses for one around the house, but really, it's pretty much a redundant purchase. Similarly, if I'm going to have a lightweight laptop like the new MacBook Air that represents the future of Apple's notebook line, an iPad with a 9.7-inch screen screen starts slipping into redundant territory, too. It's not nearly a one-to-one problem, of course, but it's enough to make consumers with limited budgets push the pause button for a good long time while they consider it.
A 7 or 6-inch tablet, however, fits a little better in between.
Over the weekend, I had a chance to play with a Samsung Galaxy Tab at my local AT&T store. Frankly, I was surprised at how large it was. While nowhere near the excellence of the iPad's screen, it really did represent a new sort of computing experience. The size would be great for reading e-books, using as a dashboard navigation system, and still you could slam your way through a heckuva lot of email, not to mention have a much more portable and useful task manager.
Who Says It's Going to Be an iPad?
OK, say that this rumor actually has legs and that Apple is going to produce a 7-inch form factor iPad. What stars would need to align to let this slip into daylight?
First, Apple could forego calling it an "iPad." Apple has a handy foundational name to use already: iPod. Jobs could say that it's not a tablet, not meant to offer a tablet experience -- even though it runs iOS. He could call it the "iPod G."
And what would the G stand for? Games, of course. The App Store is busting at the seams with fantastic games, and consumers (and kids) are shelling out real money everyday for iOS games. It's a huge market. If Jobs wants to offer up a smaller iPad -- and still publicly put down the 7-inch form factor competition -- he can do it by offering a gaming model. Heck, he could even use the same iPad name, but call it the iPad G, and with his marketing skills, he can spin the public 7-inch poo-pooing easily enough.
Of course, Jobs could also announce a small iPad and simply say that he and Apple were wrong or somewhat mistaken ... or maybe even surprised to learn that Apple customers really did want a midsize device. Jobs has backpedaled before, but it's a rare activity. I'm not holding my breath.
But still, a 7-inch iPad or iPod, especially one that's priced slightly less than the big brother iPad, would certainly sell well.
MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at Gmail.com.