The latest rumours surrounding Apple’s iPad family to come out of Asia suggests that as well as the iPad 3 arriving on schedule in Q1, most likely around March, Apple will begin production of a 7.85-inch iPad device that will debut later in 2012.
Asia industry news service Digitimes, which gets much of its information from contacts on the factory floors of the major chip foundries, design houses and contract manufacturers in Taiwan and China, reports that the 7.85-inch device is in part a response to competition from Amazon’s Kindle Fire.
It’s an unusual assertion, considering the Kindle Fire has so far received unfavourable reviews and Apple pretty much owns the market (with around 90pc) for tablet computers.
Apple doesn’t give into being disconcerted by competition and usually maintains its own stubborn course and is most of the time proven right.
But there is something about the Kindle Fire that ought to irk Apple. Amazon is making the device at a loss, knowing it is doing so because the returns it will make from sales of content like e-books, music, apps and games will more than compensate in the long run.
The Kindle Fire at around US$200, is less than half the price of a typical iPad which starts at US$499, which is no doubt persuading US consumers to buy it in droves. Amazon is promising a software upgrade that will alleviate initial criticisms of the device in terms of security and locking the home screen. The Kindle Fire is expected to go on sale in the UK in January.
So, has Apple been sufficiently rattled by the success of the Kindle Fire to go down the road of producing cheaper iPads with smaller screens?
There have been rumours for some time now that Apple would be bringing out a smaller-screen iPad. However, don’t forget the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs poured scorn on the 7-inch Galaxy Tab because in his view such dimensions did not contribute to a comfortable reading experience, for example.
My hunch is if there is a smaller form factor iPad device on the way, it has been a long time coming, long before any Kindle Fire, and perhaps aiming at close to 8 inches is a step in the direction of ensuring a suitable user screen experience.
But a smaller screen will not actually mean massively cheaper. A key factor in the tablet wars of 2012 will be display, quality of display. The iPad 3 will most likely come with Retina-quality displays in order to keep the ante against Samsung which will try and bring super AMOLED technologies to its displays to guarantee a super HD rival.
The red flag in the report from Digitimes is that it refers to sources who say Apple “has been persuaded”. You never persuade Apple to do anything, and the company’s culture can’t have changed that fast since Jobs’ passing in October. Like I said, if – and only if – there is a 7.85-inch device on the way, it has been in the planning a long time.
According to Digitimes, LG Display and AU Optronics will be making the 7.85-inch panels that will hit production runs around Q2 next year.