Officials who work for Apple's suppliers told the Wall Street Journal that Apple is testing a new iPad. This new iPad (not the iPad 3, by the way) will have a smaller screen than the iPad/iPad 2's 9.7-inch glass. Instead, it will have an 8-inch display. A smaller display will give this unnamed, unannounced iPad a drastically smaller footprint.
The Journal's unnamed sources say that Apple is vetting suppliers for the new device, which is not yet in production. It is looking at longtime partners LG Display and AU Optronics. Apple could still choose not to manufacture this smaller iPad.
This new device, or iPad Mini if you will, would boast a screen with similar resolution to the current iPad 2. The iPad 2's 9.7-inch display has 1024 x 786 pixels, giving a pixels-per-inch (ppi) rating of 132. Packing the same number of pixels in a smaller screen would boost the ppi value and give the iPad Mini a really nice display with 160 ppi. It's still no retina display, but pixels that are packed more tightly together will make for a better experience.
[ For some great iPad workgroup apps, see 11 iPad Apps For Better Collaboration. ]
(By way of comparison, the iPad 3, which is said to offer a 2048 x 1536 pixel display, will have a ppi of 264.)
Of course, a smaller iPad would probably not make Apple founder Steve Jobs happy. Just 16 months ago, Jobs bemoaned the idea of tablets with displays smaller than 10 inches.
"There are clear limits of how close you can place physical elements on a touch screen, before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them," he said. "This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps."
There's a small kernel of truth to this claim. I own a Motorola Xyboard Android tablet. It has an 8.2-inch display. I have more difficulty working with the UI and some of the apps than I do on the iPad, but Jobs was probably overstating the difficulty. I mean, we're all able to use our smartphones--with screens ranging from 3.0 - 4.7 inches--with no problems. And the problems I occasionally run into with the Xyboard can probably be blamed on poor app design rather than the smaller display. For long couch-surfing sessions, the Xyboard is more comfortable to use for several hours consecutively due to its smaller footprint.
Whether Apple actually chooses to make a smaller version of the iPad is unknown at the moment. If it does, an 8-inch iPad will cause considerable consternation over at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, both of which sell 7-inch tablets/media devices. In fact, Amazon has gone to pains to advertise the Kindle Fire as a less expensive, more transportable alternative to the iPad.
It would also put on notice Samsung, which makes tablets with screens measuring 7.0, 7.7, 8.9, and 10.1 inches. Samsung's smaller-screened tablets could fall prey to an iPad with an 8-inch display.
What do you think? Is an iPad Mini even necessary?