By Jim Karpen on Fri, 12/16/2011
The latest buzz online says that Apple may introduce a 7-inch iPad next year. The source of many of the rumors circulating is DigiTimes, a Taiwan-based publication that typically cites component suppliers as its sources -- and that has mixed success in its prognostications. You can read more on AppleInsider. But others are speculating too, with an article on CNET citing an analyst at DisplaySearch. DigiTimes says that according to its sources, the 7.85-inch iPad will be coming before October of next year and will compete on the low end of the market with Amazon's $200 Kindle Fire. Amazon this week reported that it has sold millions of Kindle Fires, and that, all totaled, the various models of Kindles in recent weeks have been selling at the rate of 1 million per week. Clearly, the Kindle has stoked this facet of the market in a way that every other tablet has failed to do.
The speculation is that Apple won't simply cede this share of the market to the Kindle Fire, even as there are rumors of a larger Kindle Fire that will compete squarely with the 10-inch iPad. Yet, a chink in all of this speculation is that Steve Jobs made it clear that the smaller size just didn't cut it. He was harshly critical of 7-inch tablets, pointing out that the screen real estate is actually about 50% smaller. And according to the CNET article mentioned above, he felt like a 10-inch screen was the minimum size. He famously said that the 7-inch tablets were "dead on arrival."
So how is the Kindle faring? Do people like it? The device, despite selling fairly well, is receiving a lot of criticism. A recent article in the New York Times said that there are a lot of problems with it. The Times quotes a usability expert as saying that the Fire offers a "disappointingly poor" performance and that he predicts it will be a failure. Critics say that the touch screen isn't very responsive, that web browsing is slow, that there's no external volume control, and that it lacks certain privacy features. Amazon has promised fixes for some of the performance issues and says that a new version of the sofware will be out soon. Also, there's speculation that an improved version of the device will be coming out in the spring.
Reviews say that the best thing about the device is how well it integrates into the Amazon environment, including streaming media, reading books, and shopping. Apparently, though, the smaller screen doesn't accommodate magazines nearly as well as the iPad. Amazon is actually selling the devices at a loss, intending to make its profits on the sale of media and other products. Amazon is desperate for success, knowing that the device is a crucial component to the future success of its virtual store, says the Times article.
I think it's inevitible that there will eventually be several standard sizes for tablets. It all depends on what you want to do with your tablet, just as with laptop computers. The current iPad tries to be everything for everybody, from editing movies to reading books to playing games. But many things a person might do, such as listening to music or reading books, can be done just as well on the smaller device. And of course the smaller size is more portable and can be slipped into a purse more easily.
Whatever the future holds, I think that if Apple does come out with a smaller iPad, it will likely be a better product out the gate than the Kindle Fire.