Despite selling millions of new iPads instantly upon its release in mid-March, is it possible Apple(s AAPL) is still considering a shrunken-down version of the popular product? Apple watcher and writer John Gruber of Daring Fireball says yes.
Known as someone who’s known for having good sources inside of Apple, an industry took notice when he said this on a podcast Wednesday:
What I do know is that they have one in the lab…a 7.85 inch iPad that runs at 1024×768… it’s just like the 9.7″ iPad shrunk down a little bit. Apps wouldn’t need to be recompiled or redesigned to work optimally on it. It’s just the iPad smaller.
He wasn’t sure Apple will release such a product. And, of course, as documented in recent books Apple’s labs often contain prototypes of all sorts for possible new products or variations on existing products. But does it mean a smaller iPad is coming soon? Not necessarily.
Steve Jobs famously dissed 7-inch tablets and said Apple had found them unworkable. In late 2010, he told analysts and reporters that adult fingers are too big for a 7-inch screen:
Apple has done extensive user testing and we really understand this stuff. There are clear limits on how close you can place things on a touchscreen, which is why we think 10-inch is the minimum screen size to create great tablet apps.
Of course, Jobs said a lot of stuff he changed his mind later on, such as video-playing iPods. But the screen resolution and size of a potential new iOS device are important: Apple’s mobile third-party developers have been able to count on consistent screen sizes and resolutions for their apps: the iPhone and iPod touch apps fit a 3.5-inch display, while all iPad apps fit a 9.7-inch display. It’s not clear that Retina-optimized apps for the high-resolution displays of new iPhones and iPads would translate impeccably to a 7.85-inch device.
But perhaps they would to an even smaller iPad? One blogger and developer has an interesting theory as to why a 7-inch iPad could display Retina apps capably, where a 7.85-inch one would not:
A 7? diagonal screen (7.08? to be exact) just happens to be the exact size of two by two iPod touch retina displays. That’s a 4? x 6? display surface. An iPod touch screen has 326 PPI. The 7? screen would also have 326 PPI just like iPhones and iPods. This would yield a resolution of 1920 x 1280. This resolution would be able to run current retina iPhone applications pixel perfect using the traditional 4:1 pixel scaling, like retina displays do with non-retina apps.
One of Jobs’ main objections to smaller tablets was the likelihood that users would hit two buttons at once on the smaller screen, but in that case, there would be enough room between icons that regular human-sized fingers wouldn’t feel fat. But is there demand for an iPad at around 7-inches? Kevin Tofel, of course, says yes. But that’s what Apple would need to weigh.