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TECHNOLOGY

A New Tablet for Business: The iPad Mini?

A pint-sized version of the iPad is coming, says one analyst. But is a 7-inch form factor the best fit for business?
The latest iPad rumor? Apple is going to release a 7-inch version of the wildly popular 10-inch tablet (pictured above).
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Size matters, especially when it comes to touchscreen tablets. Some prefer the super-sized 10-inch tablets, others want a more demure model that slips easily into a purse or briefcase.

Now, Apple may be catering to both segments. Ezra Gottheil, a Technology Business Research analyst, suggested recently that Apple will release a smaller iPad, probably in the 7-inch size to compete with Samsung and Amazon. And the name? The iPad Mini, of course! As you might expect, Apple has stayed silent on the issue, since the heralded tech company does not discuss unreleased products. There are also no confirmed specs.

You might wonder why Apple would even consider a smaller iPad. Steve Jobs famously said once that the iPad is the perfect size, and Gizmodo predicted back in 2010 that there will never be a 7-inch model. The current iPad 2 is ideal for watching movies on a plane and swiping through business reports.

The problem for Apple is that the Amazon Kindle Fire has cut into its market share. Tablets like the Kindle Fire, for just $199, or the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7-inch have smaller batteries, smaller screens, fewer internal components, and are therefore cheaper to produce.

More importantly, not every tablet user wants to purchase a 10-inch model for movies and games. Some prefer the smaller one-hand size of a 7-inch tablet, which is ideal for e-books, browsing the Web (especially if you are most interested in the text and not the graphics), and e-mail. The iPad Mini may be a better choice for business owners who just need to keep tabs on operations and sales.

However, before you start holding out for the new model, there are some important factors to consider. One is that, while it seems counterintuitive, a smaller tablet does not last as long as the bigger models. True, there is a smaller screen that might not drain the battery as fast. But a smaller tablet means a smaller battery, which doesn't last as long as bigger batteries.

Another consideration is your long-term plans. Once you decide on a 7-inch tablet, you may limit your media options and focus on e-mail and the Web. Technology tends to change quickly—Netflix may announce at any time that they are offering every major movie rental online. (Today, there is a paltry selection of B-movies and maybe one or two good theatrical-quality releases per week.) A 10-inch tablet may not seem suitable now for business trips, but it might make sense down the road.

Here’s my take. I’ve tested dozens of tablets over the past year, including the Kindle Fire and all of the Samsung models. Viewsonic, Acer, and many others make both 10-inch and 7-inch models. Toshiba also has a new model called the Excite that weighs just 19 ounces. The Fire weighs just under 15 ounces. That means, the larger 10-inch size is not that much heavier, but provides a bigger screen. Given the choice, I’d prefer to stick with the 10-inch size because it's good for both business and entertainment.

Not everyone agrees, and the iPad Mini may stake a claim for those who use a tablet mostly for reading. For now, all we know is that one analyst has suggested there may be a 7-inch model. There are also persistent rumors that an iPad 3 will ship in March, one that has a super high resolution display. We won't know for sure about either until they actually materialize.

Last updated: Feb 14, 2012

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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