Let’s take a trip down memory lane, back eighteen months (almost to the day) to 18 October 2010.
Steve Jobs was delivering news of more sensational quarterly results for Apple in an earnings call, when he turned his attention to what he called “the avalanche of tablets poised to enter the market”. Stating his belief that “almost all of them use seven-inch screens”, he claimed that a display as small as seven inches diagonally “isn’t efficient to create great tablet apps”. But he didn’t stop there.
“While one could increase the resolution to make up some of the difference,” Jobs explained, “it is meaningless unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one-quarter of their present size. Apple has done extensive user testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff.” So, according to Apple research, even a Retina Display wouldn't make much difference - it's the physical size of the screen, not the display resolution, that's the limiting factor in sub-10" tablets.
In case there was any lingering doubt that Jobs – and more importantly, Apple as a company – had no intention at all of succumbing to the trend of tablet downsizing, he added this: “There are clear limits of how close you can place physical elements on a touchscreen before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them. This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps.”
Fast forward to the present day, and the persistent rumour of a downsized ‘iPad mini’ has once again resurfaced. The report comes via Kotaku from China’s NetEase portal, and is the latest in a long line of claims that Apple is gearing up to launch a tablet that will sit below its current 9.7” model.
According to NetEase, the device will be released to counter – and potentially pre-empt – the impact of Windows 8 tablets on iPad sales, with a launch slated for the third quarter of this year, which could see it beat the first wave of Windows 8 tablets to market.
The smaller iPad will apparently be priced as low as $249, which would make it a very competitive offering against both Windows 8 devices, and against other rivals such as Amazon’s 7” Kindle Fire, and the widely expected Android ‘Nexus tablet’.
But the question now – just as every time this rumour arises – is that of how Apple could conceivably build a smaller iPad without being forced to eat the words of its former leader. Of course, one can sensibly argue that Tim Cook is now in charge of the company and it is he who makes the decisions, but while Steve Jobs is gone, he is far from forgotten. Jobs’ words in 2010 were unequivocal in stating the unsuitability of a sub-10” tablet as not merely his personal opinion, but the factual findings of Apple’s – the company’s – expert scientific research.
It’s hard to see how the company could conceivably talk its way out of that corner. Perhaps a few carefully chosen buzzwords – ‘revolutionary’, ‘magical’ etc – will soon consign that little problem to the history books.
Image via Ciccarese Design