Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Spitballing a Smaller iPad

This post is stupid. It’s a bad idea to try to predict things before Apple announces them, and it’s even dumber when you don’t have the connections that Gruber or The Beard have. This is a terrible, terrible idea, which is made slightly more sensible by posting this late at night while struggling to stay upright.

Here’s what we know so far, where by “know”, I mean “can assert with a reasonable degree of plausibility”:

  • The $399 iPad 2 introduced in April carries a die-shrunk A5 chip.
  • The oft-rumoured 7.85-inch diagonal display has a pixel density of 163 pixels per inch at a 1,024 x 768 pixel resolution. This is the same number of pixels per inch as the iPhone 3GS panel.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that production has begun on a smaller iPad, citing “people with knowledge”.
  • Parts have leaked which are either absurdly detailed fakes, or legitimate parts from a smaller iPad1.

That’s not a lot to go on, but it’s enough to extrapolate a few things.

First, it’s likely that Apple will be targeting the small Android tablet market currently occupied by the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire models. Both of these tablets retail for $199, and that’s a hard price for a small iPad to match. The obvious advantages that Apple has with the iPad are a known brand effectively synonymous with the modern tablet, and wide international availability of their content (Amazon and Google are much more US-centric). Ideally, they would be able to get the price down to $249, because a $50 difference on a $200 gadget is small enough in the minds of many consumers as to effectively not count. For contrast, a price of $299 means a $100 difference, which is much more noticeable. I don’t think it would make a smaller iPad a failure, but I think it would be a harder sell.

To get the price down to $249, it’s likely that they’ll be using an IPS version of the iPhone 3GS panel cut to a 7.85-inch size. It’s worth noting that a future double-resolution version of a smaller iPad would simply require cutting the current iPhone panel to 7.85 inches diagonally, because it’s the same pixel-per-inch doubling that occurred with that product line. As a side benefit, that would also include the snazzy in-cell touch sensors in the iPhone 5, making for a thinner product.

Note that the previous paragraph is speculating about a future version of an unannounced product. In for a penny…

As I noted above, the cheaper iPad 2 that Apple added to the lineup earlier this year includes a 32nm die-shrunk A5 processor. I think that this is the exact part which will be used on the smaller iPad.

You’ve no doubt noticed that I’ve side-stepped calling this new product an iPad Mini. While that name has been thrown about and seems plausible, I think it’s a little clunky. I think it’s just as likely that it will simply be added to the lineup, as with the two sizes of MacBook (Pro or Air) that one can buy. There’s no suffix needed for notating which is which because it’s plainly obvious, and I suspect the same theory plays here as well.

This all sounds very tempting. At a $249 price point, this product would put a much more mature tablet in a market dominated by weak hardware and lacklustre ecosystems. Apple needs to get this out in time for the holiday season, which makes it very likely to be shipping by the end of the month. I think it’s scheduled to be announced at an event on October 17, with preorders starting on October 19, and shipping starting on October 26. “Why those dates?”, you ask. Apple’s quarterly financial call is scheduled for October 25, and they often like to follow those calls with product launches.

On October 26, I think you’ll be able to walk into an Apple Store to buy a black or white 8-inch iPad with 16 GB of storage for $249, with LTE and larger capacities offered at the usual price brackets. Actually, you probably won’t be able to walk into an Apple Store for one, because they’ll be sold out for, like, a month.

  1. They could also be parts from Samsung’s new tablet. ↩︎