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Visiting the iPad Mini World Again

So there are more and more reports that the long-rumored tinier iPad is now in production. There are other reports with claims about the usual yield problems that are often symptomatic of the early production ramp up stage. Or maybe not. It is also estimated that Apple is prepared — or hoping — to sell as many as 10 million of them for the holiday season.

Certainly there’s little reason to deny the usefulness of such a device. After all, there appears to be a market for the Amazon Kindle Fire, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and Google Nexus 7. Sure, the actual sales for all these products is not yet certain, although Amazon has claimed up to 22% of the non-iPad market. True, Amazon doesn’t really break out actual sales, so might as well take ’em on faith.

All right, Steve Jobs poured buckets of cold water on the value of a smaller tablet. Sure, slim down your fingers with sandpaper, if you want, because there’s no way that people will find the smaller display usable. But consider that the iPad is a little too large for single-handed use, and even if your hands are big, there’s the weight of the thing that may not seem much until you’ve held it for a while.

But for the sort of productivity work that is most convenient with two hands, the smaller tablet’s lack of screen real estate is apt to become a problem. But those smaller tablets are meant as consumption devices, for book reading and watching movies. The Kindle Fires are meant as front ends for Amazon’s products and services, using a customized storefront. Yes, a Kindle is sold for roughly cost, with Amazon hoping for sufficient business from paying customers to support the venture. Of course, Amazon also provides software for the iPhone, which means they can have it both ways.

It’s also true that Apple is notorious for throwing cold water on a product category, only to embrace it a short time later with a better idea. Apple wasn’t going to build a low-cost Mac, but what about the Mac mini? So Apple is good about misdirection, but not every product category they pooh-pooh will show up at your neighborhood Apple Store.

Right now, I’m prepared to believe there will really be an iPad mini, and that there may indeed be an Apple media event later this month where it’ll be introduced. Published reports suggest a 7.85-inch screen size, with a 4:3 aspect ratio, thus offering a fair amount more screen space than those 7-inch widescreen tablets. Maybe there will be other products too, such as the delayed refreshes for the iMac and the Mac mini.

But there is yet one other possibility that’s mentioned occasionally, although I’m not at all certain it will have any traction. There was a published report recently claiming that Web sites are being accessed by a version of the new iPad with a different identification number. This is in keeping with suggestions that Apple would release a minor refresh of the product this fall, perhaps with a somewhat thinner, lighter case and maybe even the new A6 processor.

But upgrading the iPad this fall would not be in keeping with Apple’s usual schedule for mobile gear. Of course, predicting what Apple might do may be a bad move, because they sometimes confound those predictions. Take 2011, when the expected summer iPhone refresh occurred in the fall. I suppose if Apple believed that competitive pressures made it necessary to offer a souped up big brother to the iPad mini, you’d see one. Clearly there are loads of tablets out there vying for a portion of the tablet market, and Apple wants their 60%.

Or maybe that’s all an illusion, or Apple is simply engaged in early tests for the 2013 iPad, which will have those changes. You’d have to expect that prototypes are going to be undergoing tests months before the product hits the stores. Or maybe Apple is just trying out different designs, but the final decisions have yet to be made.

I also have the sneaking suspicion that Apple feeds selected members of the mainstream media a few choice tidbits about future products on background. It doesn’t mean those products will ever see the light of day. These tantalizing hints might be meant as trial balloons, to get some early customer reaction about a product’s potential. They won’t see the light of day, but, boy, we can’t stop talking about Apple.

Besides, media analysts are still hoping for Apple to fail big time because Tim Cook isn’t the same sort of visionary as Steve Jobs. They forget the team that Jobs assembled that carried out his vision over the years. Jobs, lest we forget, wasn’t an engineer, but one hell of a sales person.

The stories have it that Apple has a huge bench of products developed by Jobs that will be doled out over the next few years. Once those products have been built, what comes next? What is Apple doing to honor Jobs’ legacy for the future, or will they just try to coast along as long as they can? But that was never Apple’s way.

Meantime, when an iPad mini shows up, I’ll be happy to play around with one, but I’m not at all sure I’d ever want to buy it.