Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Apple's 7" (or 8") iPad Could Be Priced Competitively But Will Performance And User Experience Suffer?

I think it's safe to say that a sub-9.7" iPad is on the way. Those who take Steve Jobs' words as mobile gospel will be in utter disbelief but they'll just have to life with this. This is now Tim Cook's Apple and Steve Jobs did say that the execs should not try to ask themselves "what would Steve do" when making a call.

Apparently, with or without Steve's blessings, Apple has decided to release 7" to 8" iPad with a target day for fall of 2012 – just in time for the Holiday seasons. The reason is obviously as I believed Bloomberg was leaked information about it. My culprit is Apple.

I started on this post Tuesday morning but the fact that WSJ came out with their own piece suggests not only is a sub-9.7" iPad or bigger screen iPod touch coming, Apple could be worried about an improved Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7 but it also wants to avoid giving anyone else momentum like Amazon got with the Fire. Just as Google mean to stamp out any Fire" with the Nexus 7, Apple wants to put a stop to any encroachment to its tablet market with a smaller screen iPad.

Obviously, there is a chance that one of its competitors is spreading rumors to freeze iPad sales and when the rumored $250-$300 iPad is a no-show, the disappointed tablet buyer would look to $150 to $200 Kindle Fire or Nexus 7. As improbably as that is, it's not impossible.

Money is still on Apple releasing such an iPad. However, pricing issue aside, we have to focus on the user experience. And we have to ask ourselves if Apple will see this as a 7" iPad or 7" iPod touch.

And then there is performance. How well will Apple's iOS and apps work compared it its larger iPad siblings. For kids, there is no need to file their fingers down because their fingers are pretty small already. And we know that adults already navigate pretty well on 3.5" iPhones and iPod touches so that won't be an issue. What would be an issue is whether the apps will have the looks and feel of a tablet app or iPhone app.

Remember that before iPad apps were plentiful, users were told that they can maximize the iPhone apps to fill the screen of the iPad. Workable at the time because users knew that it would only be a matter of time before developers optimize apps for the iPad or completely develop new ones.

And what about the hardware. Specs, design, and feel of the 7" iPad (or touch). Will Apple have to make compromises to maintain margin and cut some corners. For instance, will Apple go back to the VGA cameras like the iPod touch and the iPad 2 in lieu of the 5MP camera in the new iPad? This will save millions but it would also degrade the experience. It's like that people will use their 7" iPad to capture pictures and videos than the regular iPad. If Apple does give the 7" iPad a subpar camera, it would degrade the experience entirely.

If Apple manages to solve all of the above concerns thorough to level of mobile experience it has achieved with the iPhone and iPad, there is also the issue of how mobile it is. I'm not talking about the weight but something more important and dear to me: the battery life. Also, how about battery life?

I like the 10-12 hours of battery life that I get from the iPads. I only wish the iPhone battery life would be longer. So, for these devices to be considered iPads, Apple would have to make sure it can optimize the system to give a 7" tablet sufficiently long battery life as well. I settle for 8-9 hours but keeping up with the iPad would be ideal. Such expectation isn't out of the question. Apple will likely be using smaller and more power efficient parts than what they are currently using for the new iPad. The newer iPad 2 actually has a chip that is smaller and more efficient than last year's iPad 2 – delivering battery life closer to 12 hours.

However, if Apple is only able to give users something closer to what its competitors are delivering, 6-7 hours, than I reckon we'll see this 7" tablet be called an iPod more than an iPad.

All of the concerns I have are very legitimate and I reckon Apple will deal with them with innovation or through clever marketing to address potential shortcomings.

Now about how much a smaller screen iPad will cost. At $250 for a 7-8" iPad, it's a steal and a no-brainer for anyone looking for a tablet but are put off by the $399 iPad 2. At $300, the choice becomes more confusing because $100, more you can get the iPad 2. However, one can say why would anyone wanna buy the iPad 2 when the new iPad cost $100 and you get a Retina Display, better camera, and Siri.

Ideally, I am looking for a 7" iPad with 1024x768 screen (nope, I am neither greedy or unrealistic), 8 GB, 5MP camera, and 10 hours of battery life. I hope there are options for 16 as well but 32 GB models are likely out of the question. However, such a model isn't likely to cost just $250.

What do you think? Will Apple make compromises to a 7" or 8" iPad and cost closer to $250 or will you be willing to play more to get better specs?

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