The Case for the 8-Inch iPad

There’s been quite a bit of debate recently about the next version of the iPad, including all of the usual stuff: Retina display, quad-core chips, yada, yada, yada. But the interesting note lately that came straight from the Wall Street Journal is that Apple is testing out an 8-inch version of the iPad, and it just might be the new release that’s coming (per the rumors, anyways) in the first week of March.

Now we can play the speculation game on “will they or won’t they” all day long, but as usual, we’re not going to know the truth until our next iPad announcement. But what if there really is an 8-inch version of the iPad in testing? I think that it could be a reality, and I’ve got a few different reasons why. 

The Education Market

When Apple announced textbooks for the iPad and iBooks Author, people applauded the initiative, then wondered how all of these schools were going to be able to afford iPads. Even with education discounts, this could amount to thousands of dollars in funds that most school districts just don’t have nowadays. There needs to be a cheaper option.

Either cheaper, or a discounted price on the iPad 2.

Either cheaper, or a discounted price on the iPad 2.

Ta-da, the 8-inch iPad. If the 8-inch iPad is released with the same (or similar) resolution to the current iPad, then there is no reason to redo textbooks, or more importantly, apps. Now I’m not an engineer, so I have no idea if that all fits into an 8-inch form factor. I think that for the 8 incher to work, the resolution has to match (or be twice) the current resolution of the current model, and I’m betting on the former.

In theory, assuming that Apple has been working on this for a bit and has their suppliers all in a row, I’m guessing this new iPad would sell for $299 or $399, making it much more affordable for parents and students. It’s still not at a Kindle Fire price point, but that’s a good thing; sometimes the added price brings added value.

Standard and Premium Models

Apple isn’t a huge fan of having a bunch of SKUs out there on one product, but this could be an exception to the rule. Currently, there are three models of iPad 2 with three different storage sizes: Wi-Fi, AT&T 3G and Verizon 3G, all in 16, 32 or 64GB sizes. We can assume that the iPad 3 will include Sprint in this mix if we follow the pattern found in with the iPhone 4S, and we can then take that to mean that there will only be one 3G iPad available, thus condensing the product lineup even further so there are essentially just two different iPads out there.

So throw in this 8-incher to the mix and what happens? Well I think that for the 8-inch model to work, they will forego the 3G option and stick with Wi-Fi only. Not only will this keep the price of the product down, but it also gives people a reason to upgrade to the full-size iPad 3. Or they could ditch the cameras to save weight and costs as well. Remember, if this is geared towards the education market as it could be, there’s no reason for 3G or cameras.

8-inch models would fit nicely into this pricing structure, right?

8-inch models would fit nicely into this pricing structure, right?

Consider sizing here as well. We’ve got the 16GB iPad 2 as the current lowest storage size available, but what about the 8-inch iPad? I’m guessing there’s an 8 and 16Gb model, but mostly because I don’t think that 4GB is really a usable device. Plus, with Apple’s acquisition of Anobit, I don’t see them hurting for flash storage options.

Pricing wise, this all works out into a very cool pattern.

  • $299 — 8GB 8-inch iPad Wi-Fi
  • $399 — 16GB 8-inch iPad Wi-Fi
  • $499 — 16GB 9.7-inch iPad Wi-Fi
  • $599 — 32GB 9.7-inch iPad Wi-Fi
  • $629 — 16GB 9.7-inch iPad Wi-Fi+3G

… and so on. At this point, Apple would have a very affordable iPad that would be perfect for students at just $299. They’ve got enough memory there for all of their books, plus a few apps here and there to get things going. Throw in the added benefits of iCloud, and you’re good to go.

All About the Screen

The big rumor today is that the resolution of the iPad 3 will be twice the size of the current model, making it a Retina display in the process, while not requiring any apps to change. That adjustment alone would mean that the resolution on the iPad 3 would be larger than the 27-inch Thunderbolt Monitor, which is pretty impressive in itself. It also could be very expensive to manufacture.

Again, this could be the other big differentiator in the two models of iPad. By putting the current resolution ratio into a smaller, 8-inch size, you’re going to have a spectacular screen on a smaller tablet, which would be impressive enough in itself. But then add the better-than-HD iPad 3 in there, and it’s amazing.

Men in Black

Although this is currently all about education, Apple has been making substantial inroads to the business world, particularly with the iPad. Even though all the pundits have been saying for years that Apple needs to make a smaller version specifically for the businessman on the go, they have stuck to their guns with a form factor that they like and works for them.

This 8-inch model could fill that void. Those who thought the iPad was “too big” before could now downsize to the 8-inch model and be happy. Sure, they wouldn’t be able to get a 3G option, but that just gives them more reasons to upgrade. Imagine using a smaller, lighter iPad to give a presentation using AirPlay or showing off a portfolio to a client? I think the current size is perfect for both options, but I can definitely see why others would prefer something smaller.

But Will It Happen?

Although we can keep throwing darts at the wall on this one, I’m going to say that this isn’t going to happen anytime soon. The keyboard would be too small to use for any kind of serious typing, something that could be detrimental to a student or businessperson who needs to take notes or send emails. The price points could be too difficult to reach because of costs. There are a million reasons why this isn’t going to happen — but there’s still a chance that it could.

If I were a betting man, I’d say that come this March the price of the iPad 2 will drop and we’ll see a pricing structure similar to the iPhone 4 and 4S in the mobile phone world, specifically designed to appeal to the education market. We’ll also see a new iPad with tremendous features, lots of cool new stuff and a better camera. It will be the best thing Apple’s produced to date, and we’ll all love it. It will be awesome.

And it will be 9.7 inches.