Over recent months, there have been several published reports claiming that Apple is testing a larger iPad. The very latest claim comes from an alleged “first-tier display supplier,” indicating displays are currently being built ahead of a launch date expected in early 2014. On the surface at least, that would appear to be credible, although the precise source isn’t named.
It is true that a lot of early information about future Apple products does leak from the supply chain. This is the sort of thing that, as Apple expands the roster of component makers and assemblers, can’t be stopped. It’s just going to happen, and, based on the comments during Apple’s most recent media event, in October, it’s clear the company’s bigwigs understand the situation and are going to have to live with it. Clamping down on a supplier with loose lips may impact the production process. It’s not as if, for example, Apple can, of a sudden, shift production of a critical component, such as a processor, to another vendor without months or years of preparation.
But if Apple is going to release a larger iPad early next year, and one presumes that would be March or April, wouldn’t it be a little early to produce displays in any volume now? The key is that, if true, we really don’t know how many displays are being built. It may well be that Apple is simply testing different form factors for the iPad, and hasn’t yet made a decision about whether to go ahead.
Consider that it has been reported from time to time that Apple was building TV sets. Now maybe some of the so-called industry analysts or supply chain sources were making things up, but just as likely they knew about prototypes being assembled by some contract makers. So it’s possible the stories are partly true; something is being built, but we don’t know when or if that something will be released.
But we all know that there hasn’t been any announcement that Apple is getting into the TV business. The Apple TV set top box was last updated in 2012 to support 1080p video, but the rest of the updates have been on the software side. More and more channels are becoming available. Not quite at the Roku level, but still delivering a decent range of content to folks who just want to rent a movie, or who are hoping to cut the cable cord forever.
There are stories that Apple wants to set up a subscription TV service, but the entertainment companies are playing hard ball. There’s the perception that the music industry caved a little too easily when Apple originally made the iTunes deals for the iPod. Supposedly Apple resisted multiple-tier pricing originally. But that’s not true now. Besides, the music companies have agreed to allow DRM-free tracks, which means they aren’t protected and you can use them anywhere.
None of that is true, however, for movies. If you rent, once you click Play, you have 24 hours to finish watching the movie, or you pay yet again. So if something comes up and you can’t finish a movie on time, too bad. I don’t see where the movie companies make customers feel warm and fuzzy about them when they have to rent a movie a second time due to circumstances beyond their control. It hardly makes sense, and it’s not as if someone who is given, say, a week to watch a rented movie after it’s started will somehow engage in a rip off. But you can see the sort of obstacles Apple faces should they want to bring logic to TV content distribution.
Now with the iPad, things might have changed with the lighter iPad Air and the fact that the iPad mini is not quite as plentiful yet at resellers, but last year people seemed to prefer the smaller model. The 9.7-inch iPad Air appears to be the ideal size, so is there a need for a larger model?
For most, maybe not. But more and more people are considering an iPad as a potential laptop replacement. You can add a keyboard if you do a lot of typing, though that sort of setup is quite awkward unless the keyboard is embedded in the cover.
Yet I can see where creative people might find value in a 12.9-inch iPad, for digital art, audio and video editing, to consider some of the possibilities. The larger form factor may be enough to convince Apple of the need to offer the ability to open multiple windows as well. Can you imagine a 13-inch MacBook Air limited to using a single app and a single document at a time? Maybe the iPad Pro would be a convertible of some sort, which married a traditional Mac note-book, but that form factor has gone nowhere in PC land.
But the rumored iPad Pro may not necessarily be a mass market product. I expect the potential to be more limited, though people who are on the fence about switching from personal computer to iPad might find this form factor to be a worthy compromise if it suits their workflows.
Nothing appears to be set in stone at this point, even if the stories are true that Apple is building those larger displays. But if the supply chain chatter speeds up in the next few months, perhaps there might be something to the story. Never assume anything with Apple, though.
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