I need to start this off by saying that everything that follows is pure speculation based on Apple’s history and the rumors about the device.
If apple were to release a 7 inch tablet (or 7 and change) at a price sub $300, it goes without saying that it would sell like crazy. People would line up at apple stores for days and starve their families for weeks to get their hands on the “iPad Mini”. Why? I am not really sure to be honest, but it will have something to do with the fact that $299 is a number more people can afford than $499, and that people have enough faith in Apple that they wont release a piece of junk. But other than that, I dont really see the case for a 7 inch iOS device, if anything I think it will just muddy the waters. The 7″ device has always been a strange bird, to some it is the perfect book replacement, to others it is just too small to be a useful web device. To my knowledge the most successful 7″ tablet to date is the Kindle Fire, a device that was intended as a book replacement (content consumption device) to bridge the gap between the e-ink kindle’s and the much more expensive tablets of the day. It was, and still is, hamstrung by its hardware and the limitation of its Android 2.3 roots, but managed to create a “budget conscious” tablet market. More recently we have the Nexus 7, which I have and enjoy for its few uses to me. I use it as my living room remote control (running iRule) and the occasional rss read (using Pulse). When I first got the Nexus 7 I was really impressed with how far Android 4 had come as a stable and usable tablet OS, it does everything you would expect it to and more for $200. For a week I tried to use it as my main tablet device and every time I would sit down for longer than a minute on the couch or laying in bed I would ache for the screen real estate of my iPad. Wandering around the house (I mean physically moving) or for 2 or 3 minutes in a coffee shop the 7″ screen is great, but sitting on a train or an airplane I would reach for my 10″ iPad.
Can apple make a compelling case for a sub 8 inch device? I am sure they can, if not by price alone. The Kindle Fire is $199, the Nexus 7 starts at $199, and the iPod Touch starts at $199. Its easy to forget that the iPod Touch is itself a mini-tablet, with a 960×640 display, 2 cameras, A4 Processor, and up to 64 GB of memory. So the “iPad Mini” needs to sit somewhere between the current king of tablets and the $199 bargain devices. They are still selling the iPad 2 for $399, so $299 seems about right. Although I still can’t see how they could turn much of a profit at that price point considering the iPad 3 costs over $300 to make. I dont think consumers will flinch at the $100 premium on an Apple product, I can justify it on build quality alone (my Nexus 7 flexes a little more that I am comfortable with). A 16GB Wifi Only iPad Mini for under $300 would be a great value, lets hope they hit that mark if this device ever comes to market.
I don’t think I need to rehash the current iOS processor/memory/storage standards, those will clearly all be up to par, but what about the screen? This is my biggest fear with both the rumors surrounding the iPhone 5 as well as the prospect of an iPad Mini, iOS resolution fragmentation. The iPhone 3s to 4 and the iPad 2 to iPad 3 were easy transitions because it was a simple 1 to 4 conversion and all we had to deal with was apps looking crappy until they caught up. The talk of a different aspect ratio in the iPhone 5 (moving closer to 16:9) could cause an interesting dilemma for developers. You can’t just stretch the app to fit, so will there be a black band on the screen until developers catch up? And then the bigger questions comes when developers need to decide if they will give users of the new device a different user experience than those on legacy devices, expanding their interface into the new screen real-estate. Now this is all contingent on the rumors of a 1136×640 screen coming true, so the debate is nothing more than intellectual at this point. If the iPhone moved to a 16:9 resolution, I would imagine the new iPad which is even better suited for consuming 16:9 content would follow suit. So where does that leave the resolution of the “iPad Mini”? 1024×764 would be unimpressive and definitely not “retina” worthy at 7 inches, 2048×1536 would be killer but it doesn’t fit the 16:9 idea. The most logical jump would be to follow the launch of an iPhone 5 at 1136×640 with a 4x tablet at 2272×1280, which would be one impressive display. It would clearly be worthy of the “Retina” nomenclature and would support full 1080p (and even 2k) video sources natively. Here is a quick graphic of how that would stack up.
Creating that graphic made me think about what this would mean for the next 10″ iPad. Whats the next step for the flagship device and when does pixel density become overkill? The iPad 3 is already the most prolific consumer device capable of displaying 2K content, why not have the iPad 4 (or 5) be the first to put 4K into consumers hands? The next jump in resolution (following the pixel doubling) would be 4096 x 3072, that is a 12 megapixel display! I added that concept to the above image and you can see a version of that by clicking here.
I am sure the device will have some other tricks up its sleeve like NFC or a fusion reactor, and it is a given that it will be a commercial success, but I am not convinced that it will be a win for productivity. At lease people will look a bit less ridiculous holding up a 7″ device to take pictures at the olympics. Will I get one? Of course! But it will not be replacing my 10″ iPad and ZAGG Keyboard Case.
I will update this post when the iPhone 5 is released since so much is dependent on understanding apple’s next move.
What do you think? Does a 7″ iPad get you excited?
Update: A New Theory
While I do believe a new form factor/screen size could stand to fragment the iOS landscape, it may be more of a strategic move for Apple. 5 years ago I remember contemplating the purchase of an iPod Touch as a companion to my Blackberry Curve and I still have friends today that use a Blackberry/iPod Touch as their multi device solution. The iPod Touch was a gateway device for the iOS ecosystem when smartphones were less prevalent. Today everyone has some type of smartphone, you would have to make the conscious decision not to buy one as they are practically giving them away for free. The allure of the iPod Touch as a music & app companion has faded and Apple needs a new gateway device, enter the $300 iPad Mini. All of the core functionality of the ubiquitous iPad at almost half the price, how could you resist?
Reality Check… at the end of the day this could all be one big hallucination and Apple will just update the 10″ iPad with the new dock connector and maybe a better camera, only time will tell.
Thanks for reading!