Seven Inches of Non-Stop Soul


Ah the rumor mill, gotta love it. Or not. Guess it’s a personal preference thing. Latest I heard is that Apple is now “forced” to make a 7-inch tablet. Because, you know, Apple is well known for following market trends and filling every conceivable gap. I mean, come-on, Samsung alone has at least 10 different sized devices from 4-inches to 10.1-inches.

Apple has got to compete with that by having similar offerings, right? And don’t forget how they rushed to produce cellphones with keyboards when the pundits all claimed they had to or they’d be driven out of the market. And what about that time all the tech blogs were saying Apple had to get into the netbook market or go bust?

Part of what fuels this 7-inch rumor, I believe, is the first few Android tablets which can really compete with the iPad in the consumer market: the Nook Color/Tablet and the Kindle Fire–all 7-inch tablets.

Now, I realize there are plenty of Android tablets out there which “smoke” the iPad on a spec comparison chart, and others which are cheaper, but very few of them are able to compete with the iPad where it really counts: as a mass-consumer device.

Your average consumer doesn’t care one iota if they are able to recompile the kernel for their tablet themselves. Nor do they want to download apps from Bob’s L33t Warez. Their eyes tend to glaze over when a spec list is read to them. Most don’t even care what OS runs on it.

Some will buy the tablet with the biggest Ghz (cuz, ya know, bigger is better), while others shop purely on price (and buy the cheapest, ignoring all other aspects). But by-and-large, consumers who want a tablet want a solid, proven tablet with a strong ecosystem behind it (though many won’t phrase it like that, they’ll more likely phrase it like this: “I want an iPad.”)

There is, of course, a huge segment of the consumer market which quite simply can not afford (or justify) to buy a tablet of any kind. There is yet another large segment who doesn’t see the use, and/or has no desire to shell out multiple hundreds of dollars for one. This later segment could possibly be persuaded by a $100, maybe even $200, device. Or maybe they have no interest in a tablet, but a color reading device that they can watch movies on sounds good to them. The Nook Color and the Kindle Fire hit that price point (albeit on the high end), and cater to those activities with both a solid (okay, adequate) device and an ecosystem to back it up.

These devices, along with the Nook Tablet, are not marketed as Android tablets. And you know what? Neither the makers nor the intended market care. These are first and foremost portals to the content which Barnes & Noble and Amazon sell. At best the tablets are sold at a break-even point, more likely at a loss. Most other manufacturer’s can’t afford to do that.

Both are based upon older 2.x versions of Android, and both are locked to their makers app store (from the average consumer’s perspective–“sideloading” is not an option most would consider). I would be absolutely shocked if either device was updated with Android 4.x. In fact, at least in the case of the Fire, I fully expect that their OS will diverge so far from mainstream Android (and each other) that Android developers will not be able to release non-trivial apps for them without modification.

And despite that, I predict that both individually are going to sell more than all other Android tablets combined.

So does Apple need to make a smaller tablet to compete with these? I believe Apple could use it’s A4 or A5 chip to create a smaller device as powerful as the original iPad, and, paradoxically, more flexible then the Nooks or Fire.

Oh, wait, they already do: the iPod touch. At the same price point it is a pocketable 3.5-inches, has a better screen (especially for reading, where the high-DPI Retina Display makes a huge difference), performs better, has front/back cameras, and has a wider breadth of content to choose from. I think Apple could leverage their buying power (and recent acquisition of a flash company) to lower the price of the iPod touch line to start at the magical $99 mark.

At that point it becomes a matter of marketing. I’m actually surprised we haven’t seen more commercials from Apple showing the iPod touch used in similar ways as the Nook and Fire are. The iPod touch is still mostly positioned as the flagship iPod, and also to some extent as a hand-held gaming device.

But with iPod touches priced at $99, $199, and $299, along with an iPad 2 at $399* and the iPad 3 sitting at $499, $599 and $699, Apple will have a tablet sitting at every price point they need to hit.

For people who really, really think 7-inches is better than 3.5- or 9.8-inches there are other devices out there. Apple has never really been about owning 100% of the market. They instead have repeatedly shown they are about having focused, best-in-class products which can be sold at reasonable prices.



* Yes, I do believe Apple will keep the iPad 2 at a lower price when they roll out the iPad 3, just as they do with the iPhone. Now that there’s a lot more competition on the market it just makes sense.


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