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With the iPad, Apple may admit smaller could work

A 7-inch iPad mini may debut by the fall to battle tablet rivals.

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In 2010, Steve Jobs famously interrupted an Apple earnings call to explain why his company would never make a 7-inch iPad. The screen is just too small to work the apps on it, he insisted.

"It is meaningless, unless your tablet also includes sandpaper so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one quarter of the present size," said the tech titan, who died last year.

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"We think the current crop of 7-inch tablets are going to be DOA, Dead on Arrival," he added. "Their manufacturers will learn the painful lesson that their tablets are too small, and increase the size next year."

So much for Jobs’ being able to see into the future on every front.

The fact is, consumers have since embraced the 7-inch computer tablet. Consider the success of the Kindle Fire and the Google Nexus 7. They’ve been so successful that Apple may be seriously re-thinking its position.

The evidence is overwhelming. Media, from The New York Times and PC World to the All Things D blog, have been told by sources that a 7.85-inch "iPad mini" is coming, perhaps as early as this fall.

Why the change of heart? For Apple, it’s all about the money. Whether Jobs would admit it or not if he were alive today, there seems to be a growing, viable market for the smaller, cheaper computer tablet. In a recent conference call, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that "one thing we’ll make sure is we don’t leave a price umbrella for people," meaning Apple will not let competitors swoop in with a cheaper product.

And if Jobs were alive today, a 7-inch iPad would allow him to do the one thing he would desire most — stick it to rival Google. All 7-inch tablets today run on the Android operating system, which is developed by Google, whose new Nexus 7 tablet is selling well.

So, creating an iPad mini may make corporate sense for Apple, but does it make sense for consumers? Here are some reasons why a cheaper tablet with a smaller form factor may fit into the lifestyle of many people who don’t have one.

Price » Starting with the obvious, an iPad mini would be priced competitively against the Nexus 7 or the Kindle Fire, which both start at $199.

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People who balked at shelling out $400 for the cheapest 9.7-inch iPad may seriously consider jumping into the tablet fray if the iPad mini were $200 cheaper. Apple could get away with selling it for $249 — after all, Apple products have always been sold at a premium — but going above that could be difficult for consumers to swallow. Yet if Apple offered a comparably-priced entry-level iPad to the Kindle, Color Nook or Nexus 7, consumers may automatically pick Apple’s device just from brand recognition alone.

Portability » Many users have complained that the 9.7-inch iPad is just too big for travel. But an iPad mini would more easily fit in purses or over-the-shoulder bags.

Reading » Some users have complained that the iPad is too big for reading in bed or to comfortably hold for long periods of time. A smaller iPad would address that problem for those who use the device primarily for reading books, magazines or websites.

Second screen » Admittedly, this is an advantage only for true tablet and computer warriors. But many multitaskers who like to have a second screen on the go — say for watching a movie while working or being able to read data while writing a report — might appreciate a smaller iPad as a companion to a regular-sized iPad or a laptop.

Education » If there is one market that Apple would love to penetrate more it is schools. The iPad already is making inroads as the preferred teaching device for many students. For example, the Piute School District has issued iPads to all its high school freshman, and even elementary schools in Utah are using them in classrooms.

But at $400 apiece, that can be a big investment. So, if Apple produced a $199 iPad mini — which schools could purchase for $159 to $179 through an education discount — educators would notice.


Google+: +Vincent Horiuchi

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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