There have been rumours of a smaller, 7-inch iPad since ... well, since there was an iPad. The iPad Mini, as it's being called lately, initially seemed to some like a silly idea; why would you need a smaller iPad? But it's actually a logical idea: make an iPad even more portable and more affordable than before. The only question is, when will such a product finally exist?
A mock-up of a potential iPad Mini.
Here's what we expect from this more mythical but increasingly likely piece of Apple hardware.
A 7-inch screen with the same aspect ratio and screen resolution as the iPad 2
Rumours say that the iPad Mini could end up having a 7.8-inch display, making for a larger tablet than typical 7-inchers. The iPad Mini needs to run iPad apps seamlessly out of the box, and keeping to the iPad 2's 1024x768-pixel resolution makes the most sense. Depending on the screen size, it shouldn't interfere with the ability to easily use apps. The third-gen iPad's 2048x1536-pixel Retina display is likely to be the key difference between it and the Mini, similar to the difference between the Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD.
A smaller bezel
A smaller tablet wouldn't necessarily require the same-size bezel to hold it. Mock-ups and rumours (hardly anything to hang your hat on) suggest a design that's more like that of the iPod Touch. The best reference would be other 7-inch tablets, which don't have extra-large bezels.
An October announcement
Expectations are sky-high for Apple to announce the iPad Mini this year. My own personal feeling is that yearly iPad debuts make the most sense, but various new iPod lines have been launched mid-year and off-schedule in the past. An October launch after the iPhone 5 madness has settled is most likely, and it would be good timing, going up against the 26 October debut of Windows 8.
An affordable price
The perfect target for a smaller iPad would be AU$349. That price would let it compete directly against tablets like the Kindle Fire HD and Google Nexus 7. It would be more expensive, but less than the AU$429 16GB iPad 2. In standard Apple pricing maths, expect the price of the highest-configured iPad Mini to come close to or overlap with the price of the third-gen iPad.
The iPod Touch has a camera. The iPhone has a camera. Alleged iPad Mini cases have shown a camera, too. We'd expect rear- and front-facing cameras for FaceTime, considering that the ever-more-affordable iPhone 4 includes the same.
The absence of a few features seen on the larger iPad
If the iPad Mini were everything the larger iPad was but smaller and less expensive, who would buy the larger iPad? An iPad Mini will have to satisfy a certain audience while maintaining a different feature set, just like the iPod Nano did with the larger iPod. Storage capacity could be part of that equation; maybe the iPad Mini won't come in a 64GB version. Maybe the smaller screen and lack of a higher-res Retina display would be enough. It would be hard to believe that the smaller iPad would lack 4G long-term evolution (LTE) or 3G wireless, but that's a possibility.
A smaller dock connector
It makes complete sense that a new, smaller connector port would debut not only on the next iPhone, but on all iOS devices thereafter. This would give the iPad Mini a feature that the third-gen iPad lacks, but it makes total sense: a smaller connector port would help the iPad Mini to be even more compact.
A use case for the iPad Mini as a second iPad
There's a question that many might ask: why make a smaller iPad? Well, why make a larger Kindle Fire? Why make different iPods? A lower-priced, smaller iPad feels positioned as a secondary iPad, or an iPad best suited for kids. Expect Apple to clearly explain what an iPad Mini is best used for, and why it's a compelling device in its own right.
Will it even be called the iPad Mini? That's just one of the uncertainties surrounding this mystery device. Stay tuned for more details.