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About that 7-inch iPad

Maybe the 7-inch iPad was pronounced dead by Apple in October, but that doesn't mean a design didn't exist. Nor does it necessarily preclude a future tablet.

Maybe the 7-inch iPad is dead. (Or Maybe not.) But it's worth resurrecting a discussion about the design, because it may have been much closer to product life than thought.

The 7-inch iPad that was killed. Or was it?
The 7-inch iPad is dead! Or is it?

Apple CEO Steve Jobs' ramblings during the October 18 earnings conference call are well documented. But to recap excerpts of the homily he delivered on the sins of a 7-inch design: "Apple has done extensive user testing and we really understand this stuff...There are clear limits on how close you can place things on a touchscreen, which is why we think 10 inch is the minimum screen size to create great tablet apps," he said.

Jobs continued. "One naturally thinks that a 7-inch screen would offer 70 percent of the benefits of a 10-inch screen...this is far from the truth. Seven-inch screens are 45 percent as large as an iPad," Jobs said. "This size isn't sufficient for making great tablet apps."

Aside from the remarks leaving a distinct one-doth-protest-too-much impression, I have heard from enough industry people and analysts over the last few weeks that I believe that the 7-inch iPad was close to an actual product.

Sources that I have talked to--both analysts and industry people--across the board believe that there was a lot of ODM (original design manufacturer) activity around a 7-inch iPad--or let's just say "a 7-inch tabletlike device" to be safe. And more than one source believes it was (is?) at some stage of preproduction. Now, it's not like this is wild speculation anyway. The rash of published reports that a 7-inch iPad was on the way, coupled with Steve Jobs' impassioned defense of his decision not to bring out a 7-inch iPad, doesn't make for an aha! moment exactly. It's fairly obvious stuff was (is) going on behind the scenes.

Here's where the theory mongering comes in. Has the expected crush of 7-inch Android tablets got Apple worried? And has this anticipation (trepidation?) made Apple do a sudden about-face? The iPad Mini would be a lower-margin product in what is expected to be a crowded market--the Samsung Galaxy Tab being the most recent example.

Maybe we'll never know. But, then, Apple could change its mind. Remember, Apple said it would never bring out a Netbook. And it didn't. But the 11.6-inch MacBook Air is pretty darn close.