The iPad mini, it's what the rumour mill wants Apple to launch in September. Although the late Steve Jobs always said that a 7-inch tablet didn't make sense, several clues in the company's Q3 earnings report conference call point to the idea that Apple could be about to go against that belief and launch such a device in the very near future.
The biggest clue of the earnings call by Tim Cook was iPad sales, and in particular sales of the iPad 2. On the launch of the new iPad (the iPad 3), Apple reduced the price of the iPad 2. For many companies the idea of reducing the price of an older product is normal. Companies do it to clear out the remaining stock, but with Apple's inventory so well managed, the move to sell a cheaper iPad would have been a calculated one, designed to open up the chance for more people to buy an iPad.
The trick worked. Apple has confirmed that sales of the iPad 2 rocketed, surprising the company and going some way to the 17 million iPads sold in the past 90 days.
Those sales of a cheaper iPad will be hard to ignore by the COO and CEO, and could urge Apple to reduce the price of the iPad 2 even further - or more likely create a new model allowing them to go lower on price without denting margins. Remember, Apple likes to make money on the products, rather than take Google's approach and sell the Nexus 7 at break-even just to try to get market share.
If you take that information and add in the knowledge that we are currently in a recession and that Apple itself acknowledges some of its customers are feeling the pinch (especially in mainland Europe and the USA), making sure your products are still affordable is very important.
How do you create a cheaper version of the iPad? Reduce the size of the screen.
The second, and perhaps equally as compelling reason for Apple to create an iPad mini, is education. Cook, and other Apple execs also on the earnings call, mentioned the word education over and over again. That's no mistake, or chance.
“The adoption rate of iPad in education is something I’d never seen from any technology product in history,” Tim Cook said during the earnings call, backing up his urge to talk education.
The Apple execs talked of how education districts in the US were opting for the iPad over regular Mac computers, how teachers were using the iPad in the classroom to help pupils learn and play. From a schools perspective you can see the appeal. The iPad, although expensive, is still cheaper than a laptop. Dedicated apps are easier to run than apps on a laptop, and as a visual tool they are far easier, as there isn't the risk of the keyboard and plenty of other parts getting broken. If tablets (all be it slate) were good enough for the Romans, then surely 2000 years later the concept of them should work here too.
While some institutions have embraced the iPad, a lower price point would certainly open up sales further. Education makes a lot of sense. It's a win-win for Apple. It sells more Apple products in the short term to school districts or local authorities, but also introduces the brand to thousands, if not millions of children who will one day grow up and want Apple products of their own. The "get them while they're young" philosophy, if you like.
In more simple terms, a smaller iPad would also be more appealing to children because they have smaller hands. It sounds a silly idea, and perhaps one not worth mentioning until you've watched a small child play with a current iPad. The iPad is heavy and many kids struggle with that. A lighter, smaller iPad would solve this problem.
A 7-inch iPad therefore would fit several of Apple's current goals. It helps it to sell a cheaper iPad for cash-strapped people without damaging the current iPad range and it allows it to offer schools a device that is affordable - and at a stretch would be more suited for the smaller hands of youngsters.
When you read between the lines - and don't forget this is all hypothetical as Apple has officially confirmed nothing aside from the idea that it likes people speculating - an iPad mini or iPad (7-inch) makes a lot of sense, and that's before you look at the plethora of reasons beyond those Apple was so keen to exude on its Q3 earnings call.
The question isn't why any longer, but when?