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Is Apple Readying a Smaller iPad or Are We Just Pawns in a Larger Game?

Since WWDC 2012, all Apple fans have been able to talk about is the possibility of a new mobile device from the company. The device is popularly believed to be a smaller, seven-inch version of the iPad designed to do battle with Google’s Nexus 7 and a forthcoming Amazon Kindle Fire refresh. Do we really have new hardware in our future, or is there something larger at work here?

The latest reports, and certainly amongst the most high profile, were published yesterday in the New York Times. Our favorite Apple employee “People With Knowledge” was cited as the source for these hardware rumors.

The company is developing a new tablet with a 7.85-inch screen that is likely to sell for significantly less than the latest $499 iPad, with its 9.7-inch display, according to several people with knowledge of the project who declined to be named discussing confidential plans. The product is expected to be announced this year.

A smaller tablet may tickle fans, but the concept was rejected wholesale by Steve Jobs prior to his death. However, the Times also throws in this little tidbit which suggests that either Steve Jobs really knew what he was talking about when he said that a seven inch device was too small, or that it was all subtle misdirection. Again, from the Times:

But the first tablet prototype Apple began developing in the mid-2000s had a seven-inch screen, said a former engineer at the company who helped build the smaller prototype and declined to be named to avoid upsetting people at the company today.

Mr. Jobs thought the device was too small and wondered aloud what it was good for “besides surfing the Web in the bathroom,” this person said.

The report compares differently sized tablet devices as similar to Apple’s successful iPod strategy, where the company offered different form factors and storage sizes to maintain its music player hegemony. They even suggest that Apple might not release a new iPad, but a larger iPod Touch that might serve as a dedicated media device. This strategy seems to ring true, as both the Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7 are primarily designed to hook users into the Amazon and Google streaming media stores, respectively.

However, the blog 9to5 Mac is less impressed with the NYT article. They state, rather bluntly, that the information about a smaller iPad is being leaked from Apple to outlets like the NYT, the Wall Street Journal, and Bloobmberg. 9to5 also points out that the Times story was published the day before the Nexus 7 was scheduled to launch.

This raises the unfortunate possibility that Apple might not have any smaller scale hardware plans, but is actually running a disinformation campaign to slow sales of competing products. Presumably, the goal would be for people on the fence about purchasing a Nexus 7 or waiting for a new Kindle will instead continue sitting on their hands waiting for an Apple offering instead.

Interestingly, the Times does make reference to such slippery denials made by Apple in the past. They write:

Mr. Jobs, who died last year, was famous for both 180-degree reversals of opinion and deliberate diversions intended to keep competitors away from a juicy opportunity.

Perhaps this is one such diversionary tactic, or perhaps we’ll look back and laugh at these rumors in a few months from our seven-inch iSlates. Stay tuned.

(NYTimes, 9to5 Mac, via Techmeme)

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