Is an iPad Mini on the way? According to various news reports, Apple plans to release a smaller version of its hit tablet later this year -- a move that could reshape the tablet category.
A report in Thursday's Wall Street Journal cites component suppliers in Asia which, it said, are prepping a September launch for a tablet less than 8 inches in size. The publication attributed the information to "people familiar with the situation."
In February, the Journal reported that the technology giant was testing such a device, but said no decision had been made on whether to move to manufacturing.
'Doesn't Need To Do Anything'
The Journal said the screen makers include South Korea-based LG Display and Taiwan-based AU Optronics. The iPad currently has a 9.7-inch screen, which Apple has not varied since the product line's release in 2010.
Other sources also point to an iPad mini, including a report from industry research firm IHS iSuppli, which said it expects a 7.85-inch, XGA display-based device by fourth quarter.
Apple has not yet commented on the reports.
The tablet category is growing by leaps and bounds. iSuppli estimates an increase of 85 percent in tablet sales this year. In 2011, the iPad had a dominating 62 percent of the tablet market, but recently unveiled tablets from Microsoft and Google could challenge that dominance. In addition, Amazon's Kindle Fire has caught hold on the lower end, where tablets and e-readers overlap.
We asked Avi Greengart, an analyst with Current Analysis, if a mini-iPad would change the competitive landscape for Apple.
Greengart replied that "Apple doesn't need to do anything" to thwart its competition, since it is currently "selling as many iPads as they can make." He added that a mini-iPad might be positioned by Apple as a kind of "extended iPod Touch," filling out the current product line rather than reacting to someone else's.
Good User Experience?
Amazon in particular, Greengart noted, "is playing a somewhat different game" than Apple, in that they're taking a price hit on the hardware in order to make money on content sales. By contrast, he said, "Apple adds value with its apps, but makes higher margins on hardware than anyone else."
Ross Rubin, executive director of Connected Intelligence at the NPD Group, told us the 8-inch-or-less form factor has become "an interesting part of the tablet market," occupied by the Kindle Fire, Samsung's 7.7-inch Galaxy Tab and Google's new 7-inch Nexus 7, among others.
But, he pointed out, both Apple CEO Tim Cook and the late Steve Jobs have disparaged whether a 7-inch screen "can provide a good user experience." The expectation, Rubin said, is that such a screen size can work well for e-reading, games, and video, but "doesn't provide as good an experience for Web sites" as larger sizes.
Both Greengart and Rubin agreed that a key determinant could be the price point of an iPad Mini, especially if it were priced in the $200-or-less area, but both also noted that Apple is typically not very concerned about being the lowest price.