Two years ago, Steve Jobs broke his then-silence to slam the idea of a seven-inch tablet, predicting nothing but pain for their makers. Now Apple looks set to launch one of its own. So how will it explain the change of heart?
Steve Jobs was not known for his constant contact with the press. His latter years at Apple saw few interviews, fewer open Q&As and almost no exposure that wasn't carefully stage managed or filtered for the favourable. The high priest had retreated to his monastery, presumably to meditate telepathically with Jonny Ives.
Yet in October 2010, on a regular earnings call between Apple executives, press and analysts, Pastor Jobs made a rare public sermon. As uncompromising as it was unexpected, he took the opportunity not only to sing the praises of his company — basking in its first $20bn quarter — but to denounce the ungodly Android, Google and anything connected with the Mountain View axis of evil.
By the time he got to the abomination of seven-inch tablets, the Preacher was in full flow. Here's just a taste of the full condemnation:
"[...] it is meaningless unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one-quarter of their present size. [...] we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps."
"[...] the current crop of seven-inch tablets are going to be DOA — dead on arrival. Their manufacturers will learn the painful lesson that their tablets are too small, and increase the size next year, thereby abandoning both customers and developers who jumped on the seven-inch bandwagon with an orphaned product. Sounds like lots of fun ahead."
Even giving Jobs the 'current crop' get-out, his six-point sermon against the unholiness of seven inches was a classic blast of Apple reality which accepted no counter-argument.
Enter the Mini
Fast forward two years to now.
We don't know for sure that Apple will launch a seven-inch tablet this week, and we don't know it will be called the iPad Mini, but the post-Jobs Apple has started to leak like a Swedish condom. It's a good bet that one or both of these things will happen.
So how will Tim Cook explain the sudden conversion from seven being the number of the beast? Jobs himself wouldn't have had a problem — like any religious leader presenting a stark reformulation of the scriptures, anyone bringing up the contradictions would be cast out like a blasphemer and laughed into insignificance.
Cook, being both more logical and more procedural than Jobs, will probably feel it necessary to explain the change, if pressed. He'll pick and mix from evolving market conditions, new consumer awareness, developer comfort with the form factor, better technology suited for the smaller tablet, and so on. None of which will answer any of Jobs's original objections, and all of which will be to some extent true.
For what will make the iPad mini possible is the collapse of the reality distortion field and the crashing of Apple back to planet Earth. Sure, seven-inch tablets are worth having — as anyone who finds themselves addicted to their Nexus 7 will testify (sing it, brothers and sisters). And sure, Apple was developing one even as Steve Jobs pronounced them ungodly.
But unless the device has some new magic in it that all the leaks have missed, it will be tainted by the reality that Jobs decried. It will be in the market after the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire, running an existing OS — although probably with some new services — and with all the arguable benefits of existing Apple products. Siri will tell you where to go, but Maps won't know how to get there.
It is the earthbound Apple that launches the iPad Mini, and it will have the same mix of good, bad and indifferent points as anybody else's product. Without the blessings of the high priest, that won't be enough to maintain the company on a higher plane than everyone else: we shall have to seek Nirvana elsewhere.