Rumours of a 7-8in Apple 'iPad Mini' have been regularly surfacing for the best part of a year now, with only Steve Jobs' one-time dismissal of the form-factor to suggest Apple isn't working on one.
While Apple might reasonably have dismissed the 7in form-factor in the past - not least because the iPad was so certainly establishing ten inches as the 'right' size for tablets in the minds of consumers - that's harder to do now that Amazon and Google are pursuing it.
They chose seven inches for two reasons: it's more mobile and - perhaps the really important criterion - it's more readily distinguishable from the iPad.
Apple may choose to cede the 7in market to others - just as it ignores the low-cost laptop market - in order to focus its attention on maintaining its lead in the more lucrative 10in market, but it too makes money selling content, and with all those apps and media to cash in on, it would be foolish to ignore a growing segment of the tablet market.
Anecdotally, I know a fair few folk who still use regular e-book readers and smartphones for content consumption because they don't want to wave a ten-inch tablet around on a crowded underground train. They'd like a device with a larger screen - or colour, in the case of e-book reader users - but they want one that's more portable and more discreet.
A more portable, discreet iPad
Matthew McKee, of research company Strategy Analytics, reckons the iPad Mini would directly challenge Amazon's regular Kindles, the Fire and Barnes & Noble's Nook, creating an entirely new market segment for the Mac maker.
"Assuming a price of as little as $299, the smaller device would offer cost and portability advantages, which could propel Apple to the top of the 7in tablet space, in addition to its number one position for 10in tablets," he says.
"Device value is determined by what consumers can read, play, or watch on their tablet, and about the user experience, something that has been sadly lacking in the $200 tablet range," says Peter King, also of Strategy Analytics.
Quite how Android 4.1 Jelly Bean's more content-centric UI shapes up remains to be seen, but while the Kindle Fire had content in spades, its UI is prosaic and unimpressive. In iTunes and iOS Apple has lots of great content and a good UI. It could be very tough to beat in the 7in market.
The question, then, Apple bosses will be asking each other is will a move into the 7in market add to sales of the 10in iPad, or cannibalise them.
Such is Apple's lead in the tablet market as a whole, shifting sales from one segment to another may not matter, and by offering a form-factor that a lot of folk clearly want, it could even extend its leadership.
Then there's the nature of the tablet. Beyond increasing the CPU speed a little, upping the storage capacity and improving the specifications of lesser components like the cameras, there's not a lot Apple can really do to evolve the current iPad's hardware. Doubling the display resolution again, for instance, is not going to improve it much, if at all.
Apple may have little choice at this point but to widen the iPad range. ®
Menage á tablet: Apple vs Amazon vs Google
Re: iOS has a good UI?
By your own admission, yes, it does.
The very definition of a good user interface is that it "gets out of your way".
Apple's design philosophy is, basically, "KISS" so, yes, iOS is deliberately designed to be "simple".
Choice is a means to an end, not an end in itself. This is something the Open Source communities seem particularly blind to. A choice that isn't meaningful or useful is of no interest to most people and can actually interfere with their tasks, so Apple's designers are very ruthless about paring their interfaces down to the absolute minimum necessary. Good design is as much about knowing what to leave out as it is about simply adding new features.
For the vast majority of use cases, iOS is spot-on. Only a tiny minority of users will bump into the edges of its design hard enough to feel the urge to complain about it. The same can be said for Microsoft's "Metro" interface.
Android is the exact opposite: it takes the traditional FOSS philosophy of "We include everything, including the kitchen sink, and damn the usability!" approach. That is going to bite Android in the arse hard. Already, we're seeing devices launched with versions of Android that are easily two generations ahead of the vast majority of the market. Why would I target ICS and Jelly Bean when fully 70-80% of Android users are still running the 2.x series? Android is already suffering from the Lowest Common Denominator Effect, where most developers target the largest market sector. As the 2.x series was intended for smartphones, almost every app you run on your tablet will be just a stretched phone app, with very, very few exceptions.
Incidentally, the above is exactly why Apple deliberately chose to make iPhone apps look crap on the iPad. Yes, they're usable, but they're clearly not at home on that platform. This encourages developers to do the right thing and treat the iPad as a separate target, instead of just relying on the underlying OS to stretch their mobile phone user interfaces onto a 9" tablet display the way many Android developers do.
Microsoft are taking a similar hard-line stance with their Windows Phone 7 / 8 and Windows 8 releases: you're expected to target the form-factor, not just the OS.
Google used to be good at design once. Their original search website was a study in minimalism.
Price not size
I suspect 7" tablets are bought by the vast majority of people because they are cheap, not because of their size. Even with the somewhat beta OS, surely the PlayBook would have sold better if 7" was the killer size.
iOS has a good UI?
Really? I've only got iOS devices - I'd describe the UI as 'simple', 'effective', 'easy to use', but it isn't particularly 'good', merely adequate. The best thing about it is how it gets out of your way.
Comparing it with Android UIs, I'm distinctly unimpressed by iOS. They have much more control over how information is pushed and displayed, often you only have to look at the lock screen to get the info you need, where as on iOS you have to go hunting a little for it.
The best thing about iOS UI is its consistency, which only happens because it is so simple.
iOS apps are not resolution agnostic.
This was the primary reason for the iphone going "retina" was that the older 320x480 wasn't cutting it anymore, but goint 480x800 (or similar) / changing aspect ratio of the screen would break the existing (and huge) app catalogue. Doubling (quadrupling) the res was the only solution for compatibility - iOS app GUI's were hard coded for the device.
Same holds for the ipad. Thus the ipad 3, with its brilliant "retina" screen.
I wonder if they will keep the 2:3 aspect of the iphone for iphone5, and the 3:4 aspect for a 7" ipad? And at what resolution?
When the Galaxy S IIII comes out with it's 12 inch screen it's gonna blow these so called 'tablets' out of the water and define a new standard.