According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple is working with its Eastern suppliers to design and test a smaller version of the iPad hardware. People supposedly with intimate knowledge of the situation say it's going to have a screen size around 8 inches, compared to the 9.7 inches of the current (and presumed future) iPads and the 3.5 inches of an iPhone. The idea, these sources tell the WSJ, is to broaden Apple's product offering amid ever-more intense competition and maintain a dominant market share. You may think "no s%&t Sherlock!" to this, as it's pretty much what every company would like to do when it leads a market that's seeing more and more competition. But this is the WSJ, and since we suspect it's an official leaky channel for Apple to influence the media, then perhaps we should pay serious attention.
Technically it's plausible for a bunch of reasons. Apple's revamping the current iPad design into the iPad 3 with a better processor and a radically enhanced screen, so the thinking goes. That leaves room for the firm to take all its own know-how and all those apps built up for the iPad 2 (as well as tech from the iPad 3, like LTE) and capitalize on them by releasing a new device at a lower price, to target the market now being served by the Kindle Fire, cheapish 7-inch Android tablets, and the rumored own-brand Google tablet.
The screen tech, so the WSJ has learned, would remain at the iPad 2's current resolution—meaning Apple wouldn't have to pay top dollar for an 8-inch retina screen, the power demands of the screen could be lower and thus translate into better battery life, and all the current iPad 2-compatible apps would run on it seamlessly. It would also be distinguished from the throng of 7-inchers by having a slightly bigger size, while still being theoretically more portable than the (already incredibly portable) iPad 2. At the right price, which is somewhere around $300 we think, it would absolutely squash much of its competition. They could even call it the iPad 2S, where the "S" stood for "small." You're welcome, Tim Cook, you can have that for free.
But we've argued all this before, when the iPad Mini rumors first began to arrive:
iPad Mini Rumors — borrowing iPhone tech, seriously boosting the FaceTime empire.
iPad 4 In October Rumors — possibly an iPad with a smaller size, we thought.
iPad 2 to Stay In Production — a good move, especially if well-priced and maybe a 7-incher.
Those iPad Mini Rumors Make Sense — because, well, see above.
And then maybe we'll reconsider this post:
The iPad Mini Myth, Busted — where we argued it'd be all about the iPad 2 (the iPad "Lite"?) and the iPad 3. Before the big excitement about the 7-inch Fire really hit.
And then again, maybe we won't: The WSJ did note Apple could opt not to proceed with taking the prototypes into real on-sale hardware, and that Apple was wedded to the existing iPad size. Steve Jobs even pooh-poohed the smaller size, saying such Android ones were "dead on arrival."
But frankly, this is Apple, and it has both the cash and chutzpah to let it do anything, including change its mind.
[Image demonstrating the perfect cat-size of the iPad: Flickr user earlysound]
Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter, which he may even access via his iPad and Fast Company too.