Saturdays with Stephen: On the ‘iPad Mini’

Saturdays with Stephen is an interesting and equally opinionated weekly series that provides a closer analysis of news related to both Apple and the wider technology industry. So turn off the weekend cartoon marathon and join Stephen each Saturday morning for detailed insight on a pressing issue. Be sure to leave your own opinion in the comments and get involved in the open, healthy debate.

Since the original iPad was released, there have been talks of a smaller 7 or 8-inch tablet that — if rumors are to be believed — may release in Q3 of this year. Today, we are going to take an in-depth look at whether or not the speculated device is in line with Apple’s current ideals, but bear with me, becuase I want to first cover a brief history of where these rumors came from.

Back in February of this year, The Wall Street Journal made a report that reignited the rumors surrounding the “iPad mini.” According to this report, Apple was qualifying different suppliers for a new tablet computer. With a screen size that was “around 8 inches,” the report claimed Apple “looks to broaden its product pipeline amid intensifying competition and maintain its dominant market share.”

Since then, we have seen many mockups and “leaked designs,” as well as Chinese sources claiming to know something that we don’t.

On the 4th of this month, the Journal once again made a report on the purported tablet, this time going as far as to say that “Apple Inc.’s component suppliers in Asia are preparing for mass production…” Once again, the information was coming from”people familiar with the situation,” which can seem unreliable to some. I decided, however, that when a respected publication — especially The Wall Street Journal reports that ”people familiar with the situation” have told them something, I should probably believe them.

The Wall Street Journal twice reported that someone familiar with the situation knows about a small(er) Apple tablet, and I’m sure the Journal knows that this person — whoever it may be — is in fact familiar with the situationThis, amidst similar reports from Bloomberg and the other less reliable rumors (photo leaks, engineering samples, etc.), leaves most of the tech community and I with no doubt that Apple is at least planning to build an iPad to compete with the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire.

But does an ‘iPad mini’ align with the philosophy that has been behind the 1 Infinite Loop coorporation since the Lisa?

Tim Cook, Apple CEO, at AllThingsD:

Our North Star is to make the best product. Our objective isn’t to make this design for this kind of price point or make this design for this arbitrary schedule or line up other things or have X number of phones. I think one of our advantages is that we’re not fragmented. We have one app store, so you know what app store to go to. We have one phone with one screen size with one resolution, so it’s pretty simple if you’re a developer developing for this platform.

Disclaimer: This is not a “Steve Jobs vs. Tim Cook” post.

Speaking about the iPhone at an AllThingsD conference, Tim Cook clearly outlined what has made Apple so successful. Apple has always focused on making the best products, from hardware workmanship to operating system design. According to Cook, Apple’s products make it easier for software developers, and that is what has given them an advantage in the mobile market.

Why would Apple stand so firmly on the belief that the success of the iPhone comes from the fact they have one phone, screen size, and resolution and yet fragment the iPad to do exactly what Tim Cook says isn’t their objective? Tim Cook clearly stated that Apple doesn’t want to design a product just to hit a price point, but that appears to be what they could be doing with the “iPad mini.”

A fairly good comparison to the current situation is the dusty “iPhone nano” rumors that originally sprung up in 2009. Cook quickly shot these down at the Q1 2009 earnings conference call, saying that “software is the key ingredient, and we believe that we are years ahead of our competitors. Having different screen sizes, different input methods, and different hardware makes things difficult for developers.“ I think most of us can agree than an iPhone any smaller than the 3G model would have been a disaster for developers, but how does this not pertain to the current iPad situation? Why would Apple suddenly be okay with having a cluttered ecosystem that requires developers to make new apps for new hardware?

The late Steve Jobs, former Apple CEO, at the Q4 2009 financial results report Q&A:

Our goal is to make the best devices in the world.. not to be the biggest. As you know Nokia is the biggest.. and we admire them for being able to ship the number of handsets that they do. But we don’t aspire to be like them. They’re good at being like them. We want to be like us, and we want to make the best…

On the flip side of this argument, Jobs originally claimed that upcoming 7-inch tablets were “dead on arrival,” but that isn’t the case. The Nexus 7 has already sold out at many retail stores and Google won’t have another shipment until next month. Jobs said that the 7-inch screen is not something that the developers wanted and that the limited screen real-estate would hinder their applications, but it seems that Android developers don’t mind a smaller device. Has Apple’s outlook on how large a tablet should be changed since the first generation iPad?

Steve Jobs made it clear in the Q&A that Apple just wants to make a “great” product — a “breakthrough.”

Apple wants to stay true to the standard that has governed them since day one, and I believe they will release a smaller iPad when they’ve made it a “great product.” If there isn’t an “iPad mini” in the pipeline, it’s only a matter of time before — like the iPhone — the full 9.7 inch iPad is affordable for most people.

What do you think? Does the ‘iPad mini’ stray from Apple’s main philosophy?

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