iPad Mini Doesn't Fit Apple Vision, Release Cycle

Apple is planning a 7-inch version of the iPad for third-quarter 2012, according to some rumors. But that would run contrary to the company’s current trends.

Could Apple benefit from releasing a 7-inch tablet?

The company€™s 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 company€™s 9.7-inch iPad. Before his passing a year later, he almost certainly produced a road map for his company€™s 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 €œindustry sources,€ DigiTimes reported March 1 that Apple will €œlikely€ start producing 7.85-inch iPads by the third quarter of 2012. Although that publication€™s 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 €œtest 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 doesn€™t 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 €œvery 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 €œiPad 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 it€™s popularly expected to unveil the next iPad, which most are calling the iPad 3. Current rumors suggest the device will feature a high-resolution €œRetina 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, Apple€™s €œdigital 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 company€™s 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.

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