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Summary:

News of a rumored smaller iPad made the rounds on Friday as Asian supply channels indicate a 7.85-inch model will arrive in late 2012. With iPhone sales rising, there’s less of a need for the iPod touch line, paving the way for less expensive Apple tablets.

tab-vs-ipad

News of a rumored smaller iPad made the rounds on Friday as Asian supply channels indicate a 7.85-inch Apple tablet will arrive in late 2012. Apple essentially owns the consumer tablet market at this point, outselling all Android tablets combined by a sizable factor, depending on the sales numbers you look at. With such success for the iPad already, why should Apple even bother with a smaller slate?

There are several reason to consider such a device, even with the iPad as the top tablet. Let me preface those reasons with a baseline thought, however: I’m not suggesting the iPad isn’t a great tablet in its current form. It’s a breakthrough product that has created demand for a market that hasn’t had any since the first tablet PC was introduced in 2001. I have an iPad 2, and it offers a superb experience, but in a limited fashion. That leads me to the first of my reasons:

1. Smaller tablets are more portable

While I like and use an iPad, I actually use smaller tablets more often and in wider range of places. I pointed this out in January, when I actually dumped the original iPad and explained why. I had just purchased a 7-inch Galaxy Tab a month prior and found I was taking the Tab everywhere. The iPad? Not so much. When I was sitting around the house or planning to be immobile at a Starbucks, for example, the iPad fit the bill. But when moving around, the 7-inch Tab was the go-to device. That Galaxy Tab fits in a purse, a back pocket or inside jacket pocket as well while the iPad doesn’t. That smaller size equates to a lighter weight, too: You can comfortably hold a smaller tablet far longer than a larger one.

2. Credible 7-inch tablets are appearing

Although I still use my Galaxy Tab daily, it really hasn’t been a tremendous seller when compared to the iPad. But in the year I’ve had the Tab, some credible 7-inch alternatives have been selling well. Specifically, the Barnes & Noble Nook Color from last year and the more recent Nook Tablet, plus Amazon’s Kindle Fire are all hot holiday items. The portability factor is one reason, I think, but more importantly is the price point: All three of these are available for $199 to $249. As I alluded in my Kindle Fire review, you’re getting a device that does 80 percent of what an iPad can do, but at 40 percent of the price. Will Apple simply cede this market segment to Barnes & Noble, Amazon and others? I’m doubtful.

3. With iPhone sales rising, the iPod touch has limited appeal

One of the oft-quoted reasons against a smaller iPad is the existence of the iPod touch. I do agree with that thought, but in actuality, it’s part of the reason Apple should make a smaller iPad. Why? iPod touch sales are likely to decline over time as more people buy smartphones and as Apple adds more carrier partnerships. I used an iPod touch to supplement an Android phone last year, but how many people will buy an iPod touch to supplement an iPhone? Fewer and fewer as time goes on. And recently, Apple hasn’t invested much effort in advancing the iPod touch. This year’s “refresh” was the availability of white iPod touch. To me, that’s a sign of iPod touch’s demise as a product line, which leads to the final point.

4. A smaller iPad would cost less and fit the iPod touch price point

If Apple does eventually shelve the iPod touch, it wouldn’t have a connected product in the $199 to $399 price range. Enter the iPad mini slate, which at $199 competes head-on with the Kindle Fire at the same price. Like the iPod touch, and the iPad, for that matter, a smaller $199 iPad would likely be a Wi-Fi device, with the contract-free option of adding 3G support for an additional cost. For those who want the iPad experience, but can’t afford the $499 to $829 entry point, a $199 to $399 iPad mini opens up the doors of accessibility. My guess is Apple pricing would follow that of the iPod touch, with extra cost attributed to greater flash storage capacity.

Again, my calling for a smaller iPad doesn’t mean the current model is any way bad; growing sales figures show Apple has a clear hit on its hands. But there is room for a smaller model, and if I had to place a guess, I’d say the timing to launch an iPad mini would be at Apple’s traditional September iPod event in 2012. That’s right before the holiday season, and it would be a fitting time to transition the iPod touch to an iPad touch, or whatever Apple wants to name such a product.

  1. Here’s another reason: They could conceivably keep the resolution of the current iPad with the smaller screen, so that developers would not have to modify their apps for it. They will already have work to do if the 10″ iPad sees a resolution increase, so this is almost a requirement, more than an incentive.

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    1. The buttons would be too small

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    2. I like that idea, Julio, but I’m unsure of the reality. 960×640 on a 7 to 8 inch tablet might not be a high-enough resolution. Most 7-inch Android tablets have 1024×600 res displays and some are moving to 1280×720. I can’t see Apple bring out a competing product with a lower screen res, even if it does address the developer issue. Thoughts?

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      1. Travis Henning Friday, December 16, 2011

        I believe the current iPad is 1024×768, not 960×640. I think what Julio is saying is simply reduce the size of the screen while keeping the current resolution, then the apps wouldn’t need to be re-worked an it’d have a higher dpi. But as App Today alluded to, would this make the buttons too small?

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        1. Travis, you are completely correct. My brain hiccuped and I had the iPhone on my mind. Duh, Kevin, Duh! ;)

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      2. Right. The resolution problem alone kills this stupid idea. The iPad will be moving to retina resolution and, like with the iPhone, the old resolution will be deprecated. Not. Gonna. Happen.

        You need to get over this 7″ tablet fixation. The only use for them, outside of geek hipsters, is ebooks, media consumption, and some games. I understand that’s enough for Android fans, but all of the iOS devices do much, much more.

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  2. Ugh. Shut the F#$k up already. If you want a 7″ tablet, go to Amazon. We’re just fine with our iPads, thank you very much.

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    1. You don’t like having the choice of picking between two iPad sizes?

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      1. If you look at the history of Apple, you’ll note that too many “choices” leads to a denigration of quality and a dissolution of clarity in the product line.

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      2. Just like the MacBook Air 11 inch or 13.3 inch.
        Or the MacBook 13.3, 15 or 17.

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    2. Travis Henning Friday, December 16, 2011

      Who is this “we” you speak of? I would like a 7″ iPad. I prefer the iOS experience to the table Android or Kindle Fire, but I want a device that will fit in my coat pocket rather than a backpack. And I believe there are others out there that feel the same way. Apple offers the iMac in multiple sizes, offers the Macbooks in multiple sizes, even the iPod in multiple sizes. So what would be so wrong with offering the iPad in two sizes?

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      1. I don’t think he likes choices. He just wants apple to make all of decisions for him.

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    3. “too many “choices” leads to a denigration of quality”

      I see, explain this then: iPod Nano, iPod Shuffle, iPod Classic, iPod Touch.

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  3. What’s Digitimes’ record on stuff like this? People quote them all over the place, but I get the feeling that a lot of their predictions flop.

    As for the smaller iPad… eh. A lot of the reason I sold my Nook Color and bought an iPad 2 is that the 7″ screen is actually pretty restrictive for anything BUT reading. Playing some games is fine (Angry Birds) but things like Infinity Blade or Machinarium would be annoying. Browsing is doable, but far more comfortable on the 9.7″ iPad screen. Turning the iPad in landscape makes typing feasible… that’s not going to be the case on a 7″ screen. People always assume that the reason they didn’t do the iPad in a smaller form factors is some arbitrary decree from Steve but I assure you they made and played with prototypes in various form factors and picked the one that made the most sense.

    Might they still make one? Sure. But the “Apple needs to make one because there are others out there” cry ignores two things… 1) aside from the Nook and Fire none of the others are selling in significant numbers and 2) that reasoning sounds a lot like all of the cries for Apple to drop their prices and make a cheap $500 netbook from a couple of years ago because the wave of netbooks would eat Apple’s lunch. Did they release an 11″ Macbook? Yes…. but they did it on their terms and it’s still $1000. Meanwhile, how’s the netbook market going? Yeah…

    I don’t mean to be harsh, but the track record of people saying that Apple just HAS to do X or die is littered with dead claims that look silly in the rear view mirror.

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  4. I agree with some of your points but disagree strongly about your view on the iPod Touch. You’re forgetting that a lot of people buy iPod Touches for their kids. The iPod Touch is also incredibly popular among students of all ages, in particular those who do not wish to get saddled with an expensive monthly data plan (they will often voice communicate using Skype or FaceTime). It also came in handy for myself when my carrier was dragging its feet obtaining the iPhone (since rectified, thank goodness). I believe most analysts believe the iPod Touch to be among, if not the, most popular iPod. It stands as the gateway drug to iOS. Why kill it?

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  5. Reasons 2 & 4 are basically the same – a 7 inch iPad would be cheaper. And exactly when did Apple suddenly cater to the low end of any market?

    Reason 2 is that the iPad may cannibalize the iPod Touch. Apple has never shied away from cannabalizing their own products. I think they’d be more than happy for people to buy a $500 iPad instead of a $200 iPod Touch.

    Reason 1 is portability. I suspect that Apple believes that the iPhone is for portability and the iPad is for transportability. Reasonable minds may differ.

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  6. ormy underhill Friday, December 16, 2011

    All good points Kevin particularly with regards to portability. My HTC Flyer travels often in the back pocket as well. That said, if Apple maintains a 4:3 form factor, the pockets may be iffy.

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  7. I see no reason why a 7″ iPad mini wouldn’t be a solid offering. Sure it’s not going to be as expansive as an iPad but it would be something I’d be more likely to take to the store with me or grab on a quick trip. My iPad is pretty much home all the time while my iPhone has most of the fun. If they deliver a 1024×768 mini the apps don’t have to change and with the potential for Siri to handle much of the input the smaller keyboard isn’t going to have that much of an impact.

    Apple is poised to do well here with iTunes Match and iCloud mitigating the need to put too much NAND storage. I’d say a 16GB iPad mini would be ideal and don’t forget FaceTime HD and BT 4.0 please.

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    1. I think the issue is that there needs to be very clear reasons for each device size. Right now, you seem to have very clear and different uses for the iPhone and iPad. But would you really carry an iPad 7″ and an iPhone? I think this is the issue with 7″ devices… if they’re your only tablet and you use them mostly to read/browse they’re fine. But the fit uncomfortably in a product line that sells a small high res device that’s highly portable and always connected (iPhone, to some degree iPod Touch) and a larger device whose size doesn’t restrict it much.

      The illogical endpoint is what Samsung is trying to do with, the last time I checked, 7″, 7.7″, 8.9″ and 10.1″ devices.

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  8. I foresee the end of the iPod Classic and a new iPod Touch XL. The iPad name will stay on devices of a traditional writing pad size.

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    1. Sandis Grantins Tuesday, December 20, 2011

      I agree. I think they should just call it iPod (no classic, no touch). Bigger thank iPhone, smaller than iPad. For games, navigation and so on.

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  9. I think the main reason the 7″ Galaxy Tab never sold well is because of the Apple fanboy media explosion-fed frenzy who never looked any further after first taking a look at the iPad. I never cease to be amazed by the number of impressed looks I get when iPad owners ask what my tab is. 7″ is the ideal size for a tablet mainly because of the portability factor. I’ll likely never consider anything larger as it’s just not necessary.

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    1. I personally Wouldn’t buy one! I’m a mobile worker and the iPad has revolutionised my business. I tried the Galaxy Tab and it was just too small to be productive. IPad 2 slips nicely into a shoulder bag, I’d challenge someone to comftably fit the Galaxy tab into their jeans pocket. I’ve not carried a laptop for a year now, if I need to do something quickly, the retina display on the iPhone is so crisp that it more than makes up for a small display.

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      1. I own an iPad 2, iPhone 4S, and I’m writing this on a Kindle Fire. I agree with Kevin, my iPad rarely steps out the confines of my home, because I would require a bag to carry it in. If I’m going to carry a bag, I would rather take my MacBook instead of the iPad. I haven’t used the Fire very long, but I’ve easily fit it in both my Jean pocket, and my jacket pocket.

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    2. The reason it doesn’t sell well is because the Apps. All apps come out on iOS first everywhere else second. The quality of the apps are also a factor. Take PocketCloud for instance it’s night and day from my Android device. Stuff is just built better on iOS.

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  10. I’ve ALWAYS thought what I wanted was a bigger iPad (or a MUCH larger iPhone). Now that I have a Kindle Fire, I’m certain of it. A 7 inch iPad with higher DPI would probably inspire me to get one ASAP. I wish they’d announce it while I can still return my Fire and that would pretty much guarantee that I’d get one.

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    1. Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm Monday, December 19, 2011

      “I’ve ALWAYS thought what I wanted was a bigger iPad…”

      Did you mean a smaller iPad?

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