Could Apple benefit from releasing a 7-inch tablet?
The companys reluctance to embrace a smaller tablet form factor is well-known. Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously used an October 2010 earnings call to denigrate 7-inch tablets as inferior to the companys 9.7-inch iPad. Before his passing a year later, he almost certainly produced a road map for his companys next few product cycles, and therefore, unless Apple executives decided to take the unlikely course of crumpling that plan and starting anew, it seems unlikely that the company will produce a smaller-screen iPad anytime soon.
Or will it? Citing unnamed industry sources, DigiTimes reported March 1 that Apple will likely start producing 7.85-inch iPads by the third quarter of 2012. Although that publications track record is a little spotty when it comes to accurate Apple predictions, The Wall Street Journal suggested Feb. 15 that Apple was working with component suppliers to test a new tablet computer with a smaller screen. Websites such as BGR repeated the DigiTimes claim, which gave it momentum within the blogosphere.
Apple certainly doesnt need a smaller iPad model in order to help expand its customer base. A new survey by The Business Journals suggested that, among small and midsize businesses (SMBs), iPad use nearly quadrupled from 9 percent in 2010 to 34 percent in 2011. In addition, some 75 percent of SMB owners are apparently very or somewhat familiar with the device.
And among general consumers, the iPad also continues to sell millions of units per quarter. Some 29 percent of respondents to a survey by mobile-ad network InMobi said they planned to purchase the next iPad, which the media has collectively dubbed iPad 3. Some 54 percent of those planning on an iPad 3 purchase do not already own a tablet.
Apple is hosting an event March 7 where its popularly expected to unveil the next iPad, which most are calling the iPad 3. Current rumors suggest the device will feature a high-resolution Retina Display, backed by a more powerful processor and support for 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology. Some news sources have also suggested the device will boast an improved camera and Siri, Apples digital personal assistant.
With all that in mind, it seems unlikely that Apple would muddle its tablet line with a smaller iPad in the third quarter of this year. The companys tendency is to keep its offerings streamlined, and to release new versions of its mobile products on a rigid yearly cadence. Whatever Apple unveils March 7, that should probably be enough for it in 2012.