Why The Smaller iPad Was A No-Show

Apple's 'New iPad' launch event largely went as rumors predicted, with one glaring exception. The smaller iPad anticipated by many, including the normally rock solid Wall Street Journal, was missing in action. So what happened? There's been too much buzz around a lilliputian iPad for too long to presume Apple has not at least thought about it.  

Here's what did not happen. They did not decide the experience was not good enough (pardon my double negative). Nothing about iOS as it stands today would fail to scale down to gracefully push itself down to a smaller form factor. Android style developer fragmentation could be easily dealt with- all Apple would need to do is design a tablet with internal specifications that matched the iPad 2. Throw in an identical screen resolution and everything would run perfectly on an 8" iPad. If anything the user experience would be superior for some consumers, like small children, who have trouble using the full sized iPad.  

A more compelling argument would be that the market simply does not want smaller tablets. Android manufacturers aren't winning the new mobile war and they almost all have smaller tablets for sale. But a close look at this proposition shows that it can't be true either. The three most popular tablets Android tablets are the Kindle Fire, the Nook Color, and the Nook Tablet all of which are under eight inches. There is absolutely nothing that indicates a smaller iPad could not be as successful as other tablets.  

The real reason Apple did not release a small iPad is something else, something that is absolutely obvious when you think critically about the tablet market. Smaller tablets with components as powerful as those in larger tablets cost every bit as much to make as their larger siblings. The component costs of a modern computing environment do not magically degrade when you make the device itself smaller. In fact, because of their smaller enclosures, smaller tablets can be more expensive to manufacturer.

Consider HP. The beleagured computer maker was planning to launch the Touchpad GO, a smaller WebOS device, after the launch of the Touchpad. The 7" tablet would have had identical specs to the larger Touchpad and sold at about the same price. The only difference between the two would have been the size of their screens.

The Samsung Galaxy Note, essentially an even smaller tablet, costs six hundred and fifty dollars unlocked. There is a bit of a premium because AT&T wants you to sign up for a contract but it is hard to imagine Samsung selling the 5" Note for less than five Benjamins and still turning a profit. The problem is exacerbated by a shopper tendency, fed by carrier subsidies and junk big box store tablets, to think that smaller devices should be cheaper.  

For Apple to have put out a small iPad they would have to do one of two things- either sell it for around the same price as an iPad 2, ensuring low sales, or take a cut to their bottom line. If you follow the business of technology you know neither of those is going to happen.

Apple is the most succesful company on Earth. They did not get that way by putting flops or taking a cut to their bottom line. Until they can decide how to make a small tablet that does neither of those things they simply will not put one out. People, even people who would prefer a smaller device, will still buy Apple tablets and enjoy using them. They may occasionally feel some wrist strain or long for a tablet they could put in their purse and they may even think about buying one. But that simply does not happen enough for Apple to need to worry about it. It is a fringe case and Apple does not market to fringe cases.

Until Cupertino's engineers can decide how to make a smaller device that is not a fringe case and will not put Apple's financials in jeapordy there simply will not be a smaller iPad. It all comes down to Apple's most precious asset, one it will dilligentally protect: it's margins.

No matter how much you may want an iPad mini, Apple will not release one until they get it just right for the shareholder's and customers. That did not happen this year, and that's fine. I for one am resolved to remain content with the retina display on what will soon be my new iPad. Santa comes but once a year.