Yes, it's a new form factor. And yes, the advantages of the smaller design are clear: Not only will it weigh less, but it will likely be even thinner than the current iPad. Those aren't insignificant changes: The iPad isn't exactly heavy, but having played with some of the smaller tablets available from other vendors, it's clear that Apple has room for improvement in the weight department. Just try reading in bed while holding your current iPad, and let me know how long you can go before your hand gets tired.
But given the many pundits who criticized the iPhone 5 for being a disappointing upgrade, does Apple want to immediately serve up another opportunity for its detractors? (That said, the company obviously doesn't make decisions based on what people might say, and they would no doubt still sell millions of the things.)
Even the iPhone, as mind-bogglingly popular as it is, didn't merit its own event this year; instead, it ended up sharing the stage with a new version of the iPod touch and new iPod nanos, and even a preview of a new version of iTunes. You'd be forgiven for having lost sight of the new smartphone among all the other news.
I think a 7.85-inch device introduced at the same time as the next-generation full-size model could prove attractive: "It's the new version of the iPad you know and love--and, just to give you options, now we're also offering it in a smaller size!"
But beyond the form factor, I'm hard-pressed to say what else a smaller iPad might have that we haven't already seen. The only thing that comes to mind is that such a device would likely incorporate Apple's new Lightning connector, which debuted on the iPhone 5. That makes perfect sense in terms of freeing up space in a smaller device, but it hardly seems important enough to hang an event on, given that we've already been treated to a marketing blitz about what that connector can do--and heard the loud cries of those who feel slighted by Apple's choice to do away with its long-in-the-tooth 30-pin connector.
Then there's the competition. There's plenty of it in the 7-to-8-inch tablet market, with new entries from Amazon and a whole mess of Android options. I can't imagine Apple wants to leave this arena uncontested for long--but the company also has time on its side. The iPad remains the dominant and defining product in this niche, and Apple has time to ride that wave, even in the wake of increased competition.
As I said, launching a new iPad in October would give the company a chance to pick up sales during the holiday quarter, which would take away sales from competitors such as Amazon's Kindle Fire HD, especially depending on price. (Where would you price an iPad mini? I'd suspect $250 to $299, which still puts it $50 to $100 more than the Kindle's 7-inch model.)
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