Digitimes’ Max Wang and Steve Shen reported this week that OEM subcontractors in in Apple’s Asian iPad upstream supply chain have begun delivering samples of 7.85-inch iPads for verification. Sources in the industry tell them that volume production of the smaller iPad is likely to begin in the third quarter of 2012 earliest, which is around the same time as many Apple-watchers expect the iPhone 5 to be unveiled
Wang and Lee project that a 7.85-inch iPad will sell for somewhere in the $249-$299 range, with Apple also expected to release an 8GB iPad 2 next week to sell for $349-$399, and to lower the the 16GB iPad 2′s price to $449 their sources indicate. That will allow Apple to command somewhat higher price points for the iPad 3, which is expected to have a 9.7-inch Full HD QXGA panel with a resolution of 2048 by 1536 (264dpi), possibly pegged at about $580 for the lowest-priced model.
If all of the above unfolds as speculated, Apple will have most of the bases covered, and the prospect of a 7.85-inch iPad raises the questions of whether it could satisfy to some degree pent-up demand for a substantially larger display iPhone, and also whether the iPod touch would have much of a future.
I think the 7.85-inch iPad is a pretty strong likelihood, notwithstanding that the late Steve Jobs was a vehement critic of the seven-inch screen form factor, arguing forcefully in October, 2010 that seven-inch tablets are “tweeners” — “too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with an iPad.” Jobs noted that while seven inches doesn’t sound radically smaller than the iPad’s 9.7-inch display, with the superficial impression being that it would offer 70 percent of the benefits of a 10-inch screen, the facts are that since the nominal screen dimensions are diagonal, a seven-inch screen provides only 45 percent as large an actual area as the iPad’s 10-inch screen — ergo: less than half the screen real estate you get with an iPad, which in Mr. Jobs’s, and therefore Apple’s opinion wasn’t sufficient “to create great tablet apps.”
Mr. Jobs also referred to Apple’s “extensive user testing on touch interfaces” having revealed that there are limits on how close you can physically place elements on a touchscreen before users can’t reliably tap, flick, or pinch them, concluding that a 10-inch screen was “the minimum size required to create great tablet apps,” and predicting that the iPad’s seven-inch competitors would flop, with their manufacturers learning “the painful lesson that their tablets are too small,”
However, that was then, and this is now. Basement-priced 7-inch tablets from Amazon (Kindle Fire) and Barnes & Noble (Nook Tablet) haven’t really hurt iPad a whole lot, but they have obviously bled away some sales at the lower end of the tablet market. And more significantly, formidable new competition is coming with Microsoft’s Windows 8 Metro OS user interface for smartphones and tablets later this year. It’s arguable that Apple needs to have the smaller tablet base covered in order to defend its market share advantage.
Going with a 7.85-inch screen will both sidestep the legacy of Steve Jobs’s opposition to the seven-inch form factor and going that much larger actually will mitigate some of his objections given the geometrical realities, and result in a more pocketable and portable device as well as a lower price point. But would it also satisfy at least some of the demand for a larger-screen iPhone?
Not for everyone of course. Many users want both a larger screen and telephony capabilities, but I think a significant number are likely just looking for a handheld computing device that’s easier to carry around than the 10-inch iPad is, but with greater screen size than the iPhone’s 3.5-inch panel. Also, it’s rumored that the iPad 3 or 2S or whatever the machine to be rolled out at Apple’s special event next Wednesday will have 4G/LTE support, which is a feature some users are hoping for in the iPhone 5.
There is inevitably some overlap and convergence between the iPad and iPhone markets, although as Mr. Jobs noted in his Philippic against seven-inch tablets, many users have both. An interesting metric from NetMarketShare’s Market Share reports for February that were released yesterday is that notwithstanding ongoing robust sales of the iPhone 4S, iPad passed iPhone as the most prolific iOS platform version, taking 29.97 percent of the market compared with iPhone’s 28.12 percent.
My thinking at this point is that Apple will probably go with a four-inch display for the iPhone 5, but not very likely much larger, and the existence of a 7.85-inch iPad would make a 4.2-inch, 4.5-inch or 5-inch iPhone an even less realistic possibility than it might have been.
What do you think? Would a 7.85″ iPad appeal to you, and how much would it affect the iPhone’s trajectory?