In the world of tech journalism, there are two kinds of articles you can always count on: The ones that say “Apple has to do something they aren’t already doing” and the ones that say they’re already planning to do it. A fine distinction, to be sure, but the wheels of the web are turning today, and it seems like Apple “will” make a 7-inch tablet next year.
It’s no big secret that Apple’s iPad has eaten the tablet market alive and left little for other products to dine on (in fact, HP and Dell have both gotten out of the tablet market after failing to put a dent in the iPad’s marketshare, and there’s reason to believe RIM might do the same before the fat lady sings). The iPad has a 10-inch form factor and has done just fine, thank you very much. Its competitors have not fared so well, Despite its success, pundits now insist that Apple has to barf up a 7-inch tablet next year or die. Check out John Martellaro of the Mac Observer, who feels that Apple is “forced” to create the smaller tablet now, and their hand has been forced by Amazon’s new Kindle Fire:[quote]What can’t be denied is that Amazon has found a chink in Apple’s armor. Apple execs might be feeling that if only they’d done a better job of understanding their own market, Apple would be earning all these Christmas revenues instead of Amazon. A million Kindles sold per week is evidence of Apple asleep at the wheel. How can Apple prevent this from happening again?[/quote]
And then there’s Digitimes, who speaks less editorially and states outright that Apple is all but certain to produce a smaller tablet in 2012:[quote]Apple is likely to launch a 7.85-inch iPad prior to the fourth quarter of 2012 in addition to a new iPad scheduled to be released at the end of the first quarter, according to sources in the supply chain.[/quote]
You’d have to be an idiot to brush off the Amazon Kindle Fire, which (despite mixed reviews) has enjoyed a healthy launch and 3 million units sold so far. Putting aside for the moment that a product’s longevity and the strength of its launch are only loosely related (Don’t get your boxers in a twist, Kindle Fire fans. We’re not saying it will or won’t continue to sell; only that sales at launch don’t automatically translate into long-term, evergreen sales), the iPad is still, far and away, owner of the market with over 45 million iPads sold without it having even been on the market for two full years. It’s easy to see that the Kindle Fire is one of the most capable challengers of the iPad, but it’s a long trip from 3 million to 45 million (assuming the iPad sale numbers over the Christmas season are zero, which does not seem to be likely). If Kindle Fire tablets continue to sell at the same rate without flagging and nobody bought another iPad again, it’d take two full years for Amazon to match half of Apple’s numbers. The iPad’s come-uppance is not exactly nigh.
More to the point, however: Why would Apple change the form factor of its best-selling unit to mimic the size of lesser-selling units, or units that failed completely? It’s true that the Amazon Fire tablet has had healthy sales, but what of the RIM Playbook? Seeing as RIM took a $500m loss on that product, would we realistically suggest that building a 7-inch tablet is a guarantee of success? What’s Apple’s motivation to dilute a winning formula so that they can compete with tablets that they’re already outselling?
There’s always going to be a pundit, columnist, barber or taxi driver who swears the way to win in the market is to do what your competition is doing — whether you’re already beating them or not. This formula has never served Apple in the past, however, and so the odds of them suddenly deciding to play “Chase the Kindle” at this juncture seem relatively low.