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A little hint about a smaller iPad


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.

10 Responses to “A little hint about a smaller iPad”

  1. Releasing the 7″ iPad would cannibalize sales of the iPad & iPhone. As a user of macbook, iPad and iPhone, I can say if it were offered, i would get the 7″ to use as an iPhone- answer calls via bluetooth

  2. Apple sell an iPad mini. It’s called the iPod Touch.
    It’s not like they can’t sell every single iPad they make now, why start a mini line?
    I think it would be a neat idea to sell a mac mini you can upgrade the HDD and CPU on, or even allow you to easily add another internal drive, or sell a mini with the guts of a 27″ iMac, but that is just as likely to happen as an iPad mini. They built it the way they wanted to. It you don’t like it, buy a droid.

  3. drumrobot

    If you took an iPhone/iPod Touch Retina app and enlarged it 4x, it wouldn’t work either. Everything would be way too large. It’s just like running one on the current iPad–even if everything wasn’t pixelated, it would still be inefficient. For example, the NYTimes app on the iPad has a popup window for different sections, whereas the iPhone version uses separate screens. Why? Because the iPad has more room. Running the iPhone version on a 7-inch screen would be too inefficient–instead of an easy popup window, you’d be flipping through the different tabs even though there’s enough room for said window.
    Just my 2¢.

    • drumrobot, just a clarification to your comment. iPod/iPhone apps on a 7-inch Retina display wouldn’t quite be enlarged 4x as most would envision. Instead, they’d be enlarged 2x in both directions.

      Small but subtle difference lest folks think icons and such would be 4x as large in *both* directions. Does that make sense (even if it doesn’t change your opinion)?