Would a 13-inch iPad interest you? That’s assuming that the rumor mills aren’t entirely off-base and there actually is such a machine in the works. We never expect to hear any confirmation on such matters from Apple until an official new product announcement, which could be as far away as next fall, so for the next ten months or so an iPad Pro or iPad Maxi or whatever will be a focus of speculation.
Computerworld’s Mike Elgan reports that the Korean publication ET News last May 28 started the rumor that Apple was testing an iPad with a 12.9-in. screen, based on information from parts suppliers, according to the article. Elgan notes that it was largely dismissed as a flaky rumor until July 22, when The Wall Street Journal reported Apple had been testing significantly larger screen sizes for both the iPad and the iPhone for months. More recently, Elgan cites DisplaySearch blog writing in October that, “based on supply chain research, we believe Apple is planning to revamp nearly all of the displays in its products over the next year,” and the Korea Times reporting on Nov. 19 that “an official at a local Apple supplier in Korea” told the newspaper a 12.9-in. Retina screen for the iPad was already in production in preparation for a launch “sometime next year.”
Forbes’ Contributor Anthony Wing Kosner, last week cited rumors from the Chinese site Pad News and Foxxcon indicating that the also rumored to be forthcoming 13-inch iPad will go beyond the Retina spec. in favor of cutting-edge 4K (4,000 pixels wide panel) which is more than twice as dense a pixel count as Retina’s 2048 x 1536. A possible screen resolution of 4096 x 3072 is mentioned.
Kosner wonders whether even graphics and video pros will be able to find practical uses for all of that resolution, beyond watching ultra high def. movies. Me too. It would certainly have the “wow!” factor, but if Apple wants to build a tablet to satisfy professionals, they’d be better off improving the iOS’s productivity support with features like real multitasking, multiple windowing, standard USB and a mouse driver.
Nevertheless, that’s an awful lot of smoke if there’s no fire under there somewhere. I’ll have to wait and see like everyone else, but I can envision being a potential 13-inch iPad user. For one thing, if its design follows the now-established iPad mini and iPad Air narrow form factor model, it probably won’t have to be much bigger in footprint than the first four iterations of the original iPad were, before they went to the fat farm and the iPad Air emerged.
That would be perfectly OK with me. I’ve been very happy with my iPad 2′s size and weight. I’m quite smitten with the iPad Air, but not especially because of its slimmed-down dimensions and heft. I know those aspects appeal to users who carry the device around a lot outside home and/or office, so good for Apple engineering a smaller, lighter iPad while also making it faster and with similar battery life to its predecessor. But personally I would’ve been perfectly satisfied with a carryover 4th-generation iPad form factor that offered the iPad Air’s performance. So, a 13-inch iPad with not much larger footprint and weight than the iPads 2 and 3, but with more panel real estate, sounds quite appealing.
Of course there’s the matter of price. The iPad Air is already selling at a price-premium compared with Google’s Nexus 10 which starts at $100 less, and features a 2560 x 1600 resolution display with 300 pixels per inch (iPad Air: 2048 x 1536 resolution at 264 pixels per inch), and immersive HD Output. An Android developer group member friend who visited us during the Christmas holiday says he and his wife are very happy with their brace of Nexus 10s, which have become their main computing devices.
If Apple does expand the iPad lineup to three sizes, what I would like to see is Apple dropping the entry-level iPad Air’s price to parity with the nexus 10, the Retina iPad mini back to the $329 that the original mini initially sold for, and pegging the new 13-incher at the current iPad Air price points. I’m not optimistic about the likelihood of that, but I think Apple will encounter substantial sales resistance if they try to price a 13-inch iPad at much more than $100 greater than the current Air prices.
Digitimes’ Aaron Lee and Joseph Tsai report that Apple is fixing to release a 12.9-inch tablet in October 2014, particularly targeting North America’s educational market, according to anonymous sources in the OEM upstream supply chain. Lee and Tsai also note that with Samsung also reportedly planning to release 12- to 13-inch tablets, their industry insider sources believe these large-size tablets will greatly impact ultrabook (and MacBook) demand, and that Apple’s large-size tablet is projected to be manufactured by longtime Apple OEM supplier and engineering collaborator Quanta Computer of Taiwan. There has been some speculation suggesting that a larger iPad might displace the 11.6-inch MacBook Air (which would likely bode ill for the big iPad’s price-placement). I’m thinking that’s doubtful, but the MacBook Air line is due for a form factor redesign in 2014, the current one dating back to 2010, and it’s conceivable that the smaller model might get dropped, which would be sad — at least if Apple continues refusing to budge on enabling, as I noted above, real multitasking, multiple windowing, mouse support, standard USB connectivity, multi-user support, and at least some degree of file-level document access and portability on the iPad.
Digitimes’ Lee and Tsai also note rumors that the bigger iPad will be powered by a 20nm processor manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) that will be shared by a new iPhone phablet that would be released in May, 2014. The Economist recently noted that more than $1trillion will be spent globally on IT hardware in 2014, with tablet computer sales growing by another whopping 40 percent according to market research firm Forrester, which would bring the tablet-using demographic to around a half-billion. Businesses are projected to own 14% of all tablets in 2014, doubling the enterprise share of tablet-use in 2010. However, once again, if Apple is serious about attracting enterprise iPad users, they’d be well advised to pro-actively address the iOS productivity shortcomings I cited in the preceding paragraph.
Motley Fool’s Chris Neiger thinks there are good reasons why an iPad Pro version makes a lot of sense and that 2014 timing will be spot on if one materializes. Also that there’s a case for an iPad hybrid — something between a tablet and a laptop. Neiger notes that Apple has already taken a pre-emptive step toward preparing for an iPad Pro launch with the release of the A7 64-bit SoC in the iPhone 5s, iPad Air and Retina iPad mini. He interprets 64 bit support as a signal to developers of the direction Apple is headed, which is toward higher high-end productivity and graphics devices, with 64-bit tech opening the potential for incorporating more intense video and audio editing, 3D graphics, and other features that take up lots of processing power that would put an iPad Pro on a path toward serious productivity, noting that Apple itself has called the A7 chip “desktop-class architecture.”
Neiger also notes signs of the beginning of crossover in the MacBook and iPad categories in the iPad Air borrowing the “Air” nomenclature from its MacBook namesake (although there was already the Mac and iPad minis). He also projects a most likely fourth quarter 2014 iPad Pro release, and goes farther out on a limb in predicting an optional keyboard with some sort of trackpad-like integration that seamlessly integrates with the iPad Pro, more internal storage space, a faster processor, concurring with my contention that serious productivity users need to be able to do more than just tap and gesture on a touchscreen.
I hope there will be a 13-inch iPad, and will be especially delighted if it incorporates even some of the currently missing productivity features I’ve been complaining about with the iPad for the past three years. If Apple does address those issues, I can conceive of finally being able to switch to an iPad as my main computing platform. Of course, the potential for many people doing that might dissuade Apple from offering real productivity support on the iPad, since I’m sure they’d rather I keep buying both iPads and MacBooks to use in tandem.
Happy New Year!