Rumors of a 7- to 7.85-inch iPad have been swirling around for a long while now. We’ve seen reports get killed moments after they initially break, only to be sneakily resurrected weeks or months later. The rumor simply won’t die.
The problem, however, is that this one in particular is a tough nut to crack. When you take all the evidence both for and against a little iPad, you’re still left with no real conclusion.
So conclusion aside, here are some of the reasons Apple may, or may not, introduce the little iPad:
The greatest threat to Apple’s iPad is the 7-inch Amazon Kindle Fire. It retails at about $300 less than the iPad, sports a solid browser, has access to plenty of Android apps, and is a great hub for any and all of Amazon’s media content. It also happens to be a 7-inch tablet. Should Apple choose to offer a smaller iPad at a lower price (which the market would most certainly demand), it could snatch back the market share Amazon’s stolen in the past few months.
Gaming on tablets is big, but too big a tablet ruins the fun. According to numbers out of comScore in November, 2011, gaming topped the list of entertainment activities on a tablet, beating out watching video and listening to music, with 67 percent of owners gaming at least once a month, and 23 percent playing daily.
That said, Apple’s 9.7-inch iPad isn’t what I’d call the best for gaming. Graphics and display quality are top-notch, to be sure, but holding the device for very long — especially stretching that thumb around the edge — can be incredibly tiring. Despite the fact that it has failed me considerably, I still prefer playing games on my 7-inch BlackBerry PlayBook, even if there aren’t many games to choose from.
Most smaller Android tablets use a widescreen aspect ratio, leaving a dead zone in the middle of the screen that’s mostly untouchable. The iPad 2 sports a 4:3 screen, which makes even the 10-inch model full touchable. A 7-incher would only be that much better, with greater pixel density and a lighter, easier feel in the hand.
Apple is kind of obsessive when it comes to “thin and light,” and a smaller iPad would also mean a thinner iPad. See, if Apple were to build a smaller iPad, chances are it’d be built using the normal screen assembly technology that allows for the iPad 2′s incredibly thin profile.
However, a smaller iPad/screen means a smaller battery, which usually takes up a solid chunk of space under the hood. Less screen means less power needed for backlighting it, which inevitably takes us back to a smaller battery.
Thin and light! Thin and light! Thin and light!
Amazon may release a 9-inch Fire… Why not fight Fire with fire? The word right now is that Amazon has plans to release a 9-inch Fire to compete with the iPad. While, like the 7-inch Fire, it probably won’t have all the capabilities of the iPad, a larger Fire will still retail at a (much?) lower price point than its competitor. For people who mostly browse the web, read, email, and Facebook/Twitter, a lower price point will be more than enough incentive to venture away from the iPad.
To be clear, it’s not like Apple’s in some dire position. Cupertino still dominates the market with a 58 percent share as of January, 2012. But that’s down 10 percent from the previous quarter, while analysts claim that 40 percent of Android’s 39 percent share in the tablet market are attributable to the Nook Tablet and the Fire.
It’s undeniable: Apple is slowly but steadily losing share to Android, most notably the Fire, and what better way to steal it back then by launching a 7-incher right in Amazon’s face?
The most notable and evidential reason why Apple wouldn’t release a little iPad is because Steve Jobs said so. In an earnings call in October of 2010, Jobs said that “7-inch tablets are tweeners: too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with the iPad. These are among the reasons that the current crop of 7-inch tablets are going to be DOA — dead on arrival.”
Jim Dalrymple points out that Apple made both a 7- and a 9.7-inch iPad right at the beginning and chose to go with the bigger version, which at a first glance would indicate that it’s not going to happen. At the same time, that was a long time ago if we’re counting in tech years and it wouldn’t be the first time Jobs obliterated a product category only to announce something similar to it shortly after. Anyone remember iBooks?
Why release a product to compete in a market you already own? Though its market share has fallen since its debut, Apple still absolutely dominates the tablet market right now. A 58 percent share of a market, with not one of its competitors anywhere near that share, leaves Apple with no real reason to put anything smaller in stores.
I’m sure some of you will say I made an entirely contradictory point up there with Amazon grabbing share, but it’s all about perspective. Perhaps one person thinks that now is the time to plug up any leaky market share dribbling into Amazon’s hands, while someone else may think that Apple should wait until it absolutely has to throw a lower-priced option into the ring.
Too many choices can be a bad thing, and Apple’s well aware of this. Look at iPhone releases: one model at a time. Apple’s all about making one absolutely stellar, blow-your-mind, make-you-believe-in-magic product and selling it well. Design, sell, repeat.
Tablets are meant to be simple, easy-to-use products. It’s not like a PC, where users have to review list after list of specs and configurations before figuring out what fits. Some companies, like Samsung, want to stretch across every category of the tablet market with different spec’d and sized models under a shared brand. One of the iPads greatest advantages is being the iPad, rather than an iPad Lite, or an iPad Air, or whatever.
It would be a deviation from Apple’s current strategy and over-arching mission statement of “Keep it simple, stupid” if they were to start switching things up now.
So… Will Apple release a 7-inch iPad? Truth be told, your guess is as good as mine, but it would seem that there are advantages in either case.