Smaller iPad talk resurfaces, but Apple won't be tempted, say experts

Smaller iPad talk resurfaces, but Apple won't be tempted, say experts

CEO Tim Cook doesn't address rumours, intimates 7-inch Kindle Fire is a 'limited function...product'

Apple is unlikely to pull the trigger on a smaller-sized iPad, experts said today.

Talk of an iPad sporting a smaller screen resurfaced -- that talk isn't new -- after the Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported Tuesday that Apple was contemplating a tablet with an 8-in. display.

According to the newspaper, officials at some Apple suppliers said the Cupertino, Calif. company was circulating specifications for a smaller iPad and qualifying partners, including LG Display of South Korea, for possible manufacturing of the less-expansive displays.

An 8-in. iPad would be slightly larger than Amazon's 7-in. Fire tablet, millions of which are thought to have been sold since its November 2011 launch. Such an iPad would shave several inches from the current model's dimensions, and probably cut hundreds of dollars from its price.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, believes a smaller iPad is inevitable.

"Although a [smaller] iPad won't be part of the March event," said Gottheil, referring to the expected March 7 unveiling of the next 10.7-in. iPad, "one has always been in the plan. They've always wanted one. And it's actually a good form factor for some users."

The trade-offs in a smaller iPad would include increased portability and less weight, countered by a shrunken viewing area and more difficulty typing on the onscreen keyboard.

But others think a different-sized iPad is far from certain.

Aaron Vronko, the CEO of Rapid Repair, a firm that fixes broken iPhones, iPods and iPads, ticked off reasons why Apple is unlikely to offer a smaller tablet.

Developers, for one.

Adding another screen size to the iPad line would require iOS app developers to support multiple tablet displays. "I think a smaller iPad would be questionable," said Vronko, "because Apple has been able to appeal to [iPad] developers with its single screen format."

Another issue with a smaller iPad, added Vronko, is on the marketing side, but because Apple is, well, Apple, that carries considerable weight.

In that theory, Apple has gone to considerable lengths to define and separate its primary products -- iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Mac -- by, among other things, screen size. To introduce a smaller iPad would muddy the waters, something Apple has spent substantial effort to avoid.

The same argument, Vronko said, makes a larger-sized iPhone screen also unlikely. Last year, just prior to the debut of the iPhone 4S, many believed that Apple would match those Android handset rivals that produce smartphones with larger screens.

Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney called a smaller iPad "very smart," but then added he thought it a long-shot that Apple would actually sell one.

"[More size choice] makes a lot of sense, and their appeal depends on what people want to do with them," said Dulaney. "But I would say they won't create a smaller iPad.

Dulaney referred to Apple's public position on smaller tablets as a reason.

In October 2010, former-CEO Steve Jobs made one of his rare earnings call appearances to belittle 7-in. tablets.

"There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen," Jobs said. "This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps."

Jobs dismissed the smaller screen sixe, saying that the then-expected crop of 7-in. tablets would be "DOA, Dead on Arrival," that their makers would "learn a painful lesson that their tablets are too small," and recommended OEMs considering that size screen include sandpaper with their devices "so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one quarter of the present size."

"When Apple takes a stand on something, whether it's tablet screen size or a one-mouse button, it tends to be pretty stubborn about it," said Dulaney.

Yesterday, current CEO Tim Cook seemed to channel his former leader and reiterate Jobs' determination to stick with a 10.7-in. screen for the iPad.

During a conference call hosted by investment firm Goldman Sachs, Cook knocked what he called "cheap tablets," effectively throwing cold water on a smaller iPad, which many have assumed Apple will ship because it would be less expensive, and thus able to compete more directly with Amazon's $200 Kindle Fire.

"A cheap product might sell some units and somebody may get it home and you know, they feel great when they pay from their wallets, but then they get it home and use it, and the joy is gone," said Cook, according to a transcript of the call published by CNN.

More to the point, Cook acknowledged Amazon's success, but then knocked the rival's Kindle Fire. "The customers that we're designing our products for are not going to be satisfied with a limited function kind of product," Cook said.

Cook also noted that Jobs' influence remains strong at Apple, bolstering the argument that the company won't add a differently-sized tablet to its line-up. "Steve [Jobs] grilled in all of us, over many years, that the company should revolve around great products, and that we should stay extremely focused on few things rather than try to do so many that we did nothing well," he said.

Dulaney, like other pundits, expects Apple to tackle the cost issue, not by offering a smaller iPad, but by continuing to sell the iPad 2 at a lower price after the newest model is released.

"I think they'll do what they've done with the iPhone, which is to dramatically lower the price of the older model to have a cheaper choice," Dulaney said.

Although Apple launched the iPhone 4S last October, it slashed the iPhone 4's price by half, and offered the even-older iPhone 3GS for free.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at , on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His e-mail address is

See more articles by Gregg Keizer.

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