Bigger ain't always better. Ask anyone who's watched the world's greatest soccer player, the 5'7" Lionel Messi. Or anyone who's regretted snarfing down a Supersized meal.
Despite Steve Jobs' public trashing of smaller-than-10-inch tablets, an iPad Mini seems, based on the history of Apple rumors and my own reporting, to be not only inevitable, but a likely hit, too, especially with big businesses.
(Here's my 'reporting,' by the way: the driver who took me to the San Francisco Airport a few weeks ago told me his previous passenger was an Apple executive who told him - and this was before the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg articles came out - that an iPad Mini was definitely coming. By the way, the driver's wife works at Google. Only in Silicon Valley...)
As we've all had beaten into our skulls by now, form factor is key with mobile devices. Partly, this is due to how it affects weight and whether or not it can fit into a lady's purse. But mostly it's because of how it crucially it affects the usability of touch-based screen interfaces.
Supersize my tablet? No thanks.
So I do buy the argument that the iPad Mini creates a new category, distinct from 7-inch Android tablets and 10-inch iPads. As pointed out by Twitter user, trojankitten, a 7.85-inch iPad Mini would be 30 square inches. That's 40% larger than a Google Nexus or Amazon Kindle Fire, and 33% smaller than a full iPad.
That screen will likely be the 1024x768 resolution of the iPad 2, and, here's my guess, use the iPad 2's dual-core A5 processor.
Why? The new iPad's faster A5X with quad-core graphics is overkill for a 1024x768 screen.
Going with older components also lowers power usage and heat emission, and boosts battery life.
It would probably also allow Apple to match the Google Nexus and the rest of the Nvidia Kai-based tablets on price. Though knowing Apple, it will start at $249 for 16 GB of storage, instead of $199 for 8 GB.
In this way, Apple is copying what it's done successfully with the iPhone in the last 2 years: sell what are essentially older versions to the price-sensitive mass market and avoid cannibalizing its high-end while stealing away users from Android.
How About Enterprises?
Going back to my original theory, I predict the iPad Mini will jumpstart many more enterprise tablet deployments than the iPad has to date.
Despite my list of impressive iPad tablets, most iPads inside companies today are BYOD devices brought in by workers - as much as 5 out of six tablets inside companies today, according to Strategy Analytics.
At half the price of an iPad - and one-fifth to one-tenth the price of a ruggedized tablet - iPad Minis will be so inexpensive that IT directors won't be able to resist adopting them for field service work.
The smaller size is also a bonus. Traditional mobile devices aimed at enterprise field workers have been closer to 7-inches in size - for a good reason, as Dan Rowinski points out at Read/Write Web:
Take the scenario of the doctor in a hospital. Health care has long been defined by “the chart” attached to a clipboard that hangs off the end of a patient’s bed. That does not necessarily have to be so - tablets could revolutionize the day-to-day practices of doctors everywhere. Yet, what is more convenient for these doctors? A large tablet that can be carried under their arms wherever they go, or a smaller tablet that fits perfectly into the pocket of a lab coat?
CIOs won't care if the screen is smaller or not Retina-enabled. It will be good enough for enterprise apps, while just bad enough to discourage workers from turning it into their primary gaming machine.
A lower-res screen also means requires fewer bits sent and received over the network - key when you're on a 3G data plan. It also means longer battery life - again key for field service, salespeople and other out-of-office workers.
The potential for sluggish performance will come from poor connectivity. So Apple will likely offer at least one 3G-enabled iPad Mini, at perhaps a $50-$100 premium ($299 or $349), or even a 4G LTE-enabled model.
In summary: lower price, better form factor, longer battery life, faster (de facto) networking, less dilly-dallying by workers. For a CIO thinking mobile, what's not to love?