Small iPad or Large iPod Touch

There’s been a lot of great chatter this week about the smaller iPad with strong comments from Apple heavy hitters John Gruber, and MG Siegler, and others.  This story has been rattling around for months now.

It was quiet on this front, until John Gruber on his weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin “The Talk Show” indicated that “What I do know is that they have one in the lab. A 7.85 inch iPad that runs at 1024×768. It’s just like the regular iPad shrunk down a bit.”   Now, Gruber was clear to mention that right now the product may never see the light of day.

Now Gruber’s test machine represents the Small iPad part of this discussion. Ever since this idea of a smaller tablet has been active, the key question has been small iPad or big iPod Touch. Gruber indicates that Apple is thinking a small iPad that is the same resolution as the iPad2. This accomplishes one main goal which is no further fragmentation of the iPad lineup with just two resolutions to support. Now, the icons are smaller on the screen as are the controls/virtual keyboard but this size certainly appears to be workable. MG Siegler argues that this smaller iPad would make a great ereader as well as running all the other software of the iPad. This smaller iPad would be comfortable to hold in one hand due to decrease in size and weight. In addition, Apple could produce this device for a sweet price point in the $249 to $299. Placing an iOS branded competitor at the Kindle Fire’s price point.

Now while Gruber is suggesting the smaller iPad, Odi Kosmatos on his blog makes a compelling argument for a 7 inch iPod Touch Maxi. Again to avoid fragmentation and assist developers in supporting a new device, Odi suggests that a 7 inch screen is really just four iPod Touch screens and by making the resolution 1920 x 1280, Apple can use the pixel scaling that they use for the retina displays. This is the same argument for a bigger screen iPhone supporting this resolution. The same argument applies for this device. It’s lighter, will be cheaper, and can be held in one hand comfortably for reading. Odi argues that instead of slightly smaller icon targets like the Small iPad, this device will actually have larger icons than the iPod touch.

So making a giant leaping that Apple will ship such a product, which product is more likely? The beginning of Odi’s argument contains the now famous Job’s quote that folks would need sandpaper to file down their fingers for the smaller screens. Course Apple has frequently denied or even criticized products that they have later created/supported as MG Siegler points out.

Apple could easily do nothing, and continue with the 9.7 inch device only. However, the loyalty impact of getting customers into the Apple ecosystem is not an easy force to ignore. If a cheaper device increases Apple’s sales and increases the Apple halo then Tim Cook has to consider it. Finally, the most compelling argument for such a device is the rationale of be your own cannibal. If you are going to lose iPad sales, then lose those sales to a different sized iPad. There’s room for multiple sizes of devices as the 5 inch Galaxy Tabphone is suggesting.

The most logical option for Apple is the 7.85 inch Mini iPad with a resolution of 1024 x 768 for now, with a future retina resolution version down the road. Once Apple is able to retire the 1024 x 720 resolution specification, Apple can upgrade the iPad Mini and still only support two resolutions support for the iPad. If you think about it, Apple will retire “new” sales of iPad 2 next year when Apple switches to an all retina screen iPad lineup in 2013. Later in the year, Apple could shift the iPad Mini to a retina screen display, and only officially support two resolutions.

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