A rumor that I heard a couple of days ago said that Apple is considering a smaller iPad, one with a 7″ screen size. This would put it in the middle between the iPhone and the current iPad. A editorial on Electronista outlines some cogent reasons why a 7″ iPad may be a mistake for Apple. Their main point was that the smaller iPad would muddy the waters (and the brand), potentially confusing customers as to why they should get it and not an iPhone (which is more portable) or a larger iPad (which is nicer for consumer content). They also had some secondary concerns about the product. The editorial is definitely worth a read.
However, I think a case could be made for such a device, even it does seem to muddy the product line a little bit. First, the concern the Electronista author had was that 7″ could be too small for watching video. I think they’ve been spoiled by the iPad, because 7″ screens have been pretty common for portable video for a while, and there are many, many people who have happily watched video on the iPhone, iPod Touch and even the iPod Nano and Classic. Sure, video looks gorgeous on the iPad’s 11″ screen. But it would still look pretty good on a 7″ screen, and be better than the iPhone/iPod Touch, Nano and Classic.
The other concern with the article was the pricing, since it would sit right in between the iPad and the iPod Touch. Actually, rather than being confusing, I think this actually is better since it adds a price-point between them that would expand into 2 different areas. The first are people who either can’t afford the 11″ iPad, or don’t want to spend the money. They aren’t concerned with having something pocket-sized portable, since they presumably thought the 11″ iPad was “portable enough”. The second group are those that are willing to spend more than the cost of an iPod touch, but find the iPad too large for their needs and the iPod Touch too small. Cost isn’t an issue, their concern is the size, and putting a device in the middle fills a gap in the product line. These are customers that are likely sitting on the fence waiting, or have decided to just spend the money on the iPod Touch (meaning a smaller profit for Apple). Having a middle-ground product would bring in these customers, and result in a bit more revenue for Apple.
Having a selection of physical size and features isn’t new for Apple. They have already done this on the iPod side with the Shuffle, Nano, Classic and Touch, with a significant degree of success. By adding a 7″ iPad, they would have a continuum of sizes from the smallest music-only Shuffle, to the largest and fully-featured iPad. As the Electronista author points out, Apple does a very good job of avoiding confusion in their product line. However, Apple is also reasonably good at providing a choice across a spectrum, and doesn’t take a “one-size is good enough” approach. They have done this with the Macintosh line of computers and have carried that over to the iPod. They do have some products where the selection is somewhat limited (the Apple TV, the iPhone and the iPad). By offering a 7″ iPad, it would remove it from the “one-size only” list and build a bit of bridge between it and the iPod Touch.