Steve Jobs may have been a visionary, but his vision wasn’t always 100% in focus. For example, I was at the 2005 All Things Digital conference where Jobs said Apple was unlikely to produce a cell phone because, as conference co-host Walter Mossberg wrote in his Wall Street Journal column at the time, “he would have to offer it through what he called the ‘four orifices — the four big U.S. cellphone carriers.” Last year Jobs reportedly said Apple wouldn’t make a 7-inch iPad and, perhaps that will remain company policy, but after seeing the success of the Amazon Kindle, Jobs’ successor ought to reconsider, just as Jobs eventually reconsidered making a phone.
I’ve owned a Kindle Fire from day one and have mixed feelings about the device. For the most part I like it and I’m especially pleased to have a tablet that’s small enough to fit into my pants or jacket pocket. Though I wish it were even lighter than it is, I appreciate that it’s slightly lighter than an iPad 2.
Still, I was disappointed when I took it on a trip a few weeks ago and had to struggle to sign into Gogo In-Flight WiFi service. The site’s web interface simply didn’t lend itself to such a small screen, or so I thought. I then logged into the same service on an even smaller iPhone and realized that the problem with the Kindle Fire was not-so-much its screen size but it’s poorly thought out user-interface and sluggish responsiveness (which is somewhat improved with a recent over-the-air update). Hence my point. The issue isn’t size but software. IfApple software engineers can create software that makes web surfing tolerable on its smaller iPod Touch and iPhone, they can certainly figure out how to make using a 7 inch iPad a great experience.
Price is also an issue. At $199, the Kindle Fire is an impulse buy which explains why so many were sold during the Christmas season. True, a lot of people are obviously willing to spend $499 for an iPad but if Apple could cut the price in half, it could probably sell far more than twice as many.
The rumor mill was buzzing with earlier reports that Apple would introduce just such a device but the latest rumor published at Digitimes says that “Instead of the previously-rumored 7.85-inch, the upcoming iPad models will still feature 9.7-inch screens.” The article also says that Applewill unveil two new iPads at iWorld (formerly the MacWorld Expo) in January. I agree with my friend David Needle over at TabTimes who is smartly skeptical about the latest Digitimes rumor.
Just as Apple has a range of sizes for its MacBook PCs, it needs to offer a range for its iPad. In a sense it does that already if you think of the iPod Touch as a mini-iPad with its 3.5 inch screen but there is a big difference between 3.5 inches and 7 inches. Apple needs to fill the gap.