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Tablets in Grade School: Why Apple Should Launch a Smaller iPad

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear from the beginning—despite speculation and rumors to the contrary, Apple could not have released a smaller iPad this year. The iPad line is still too new for Apple to split it in half and keep profits high. The production of a smaller tablet would have required that Apple retool their entire supply chain and give up tremendous economies of scale, sacrificing high margins to produce a new product that would cannibalize sales of the ten inch iPad.

But next year is a different year. By then the iPad will have reached its fourth birthday and competition from mobile phone and laptop vendors will be at a fever pitch. Window 8 will be on store shelves and Android 5.0 Jelly Bean will have been made available to vendors. Amazon’s second or third Kindle Fire will be up for sale, likely alongside a larger sibling, and Samsung will have had a chance to refine their tablet offerings and create a truly compelling S Pen. Much of the field will, like it already does, rely on smaller form factor tablets to clearly differentiate themselves from the new iPad. The launch of an Apple branded Lilliputian tablet would squash the development of Android market share while heading off a resurgence of the Microsoft brand. Small tablets are the most successful iPad challengers, but a smaller Apple tablet could easily destroy its burgeoning rivals.

Nevertheless, competitor offerings alone are not enough to justify a bifurcation of the iPad form factor. Apple is not a company that releases products just to be in the same space as other manufacturers. Apple never released a netbook, they pulled out of printers when they were most profitable, and they never made a serious play for the enterprise. Apple’s astounding success has come from it’s uncanny ability to see opportunity in the failings of other technology companies and respond to them with original hardware coupled to wonderful software. The iPad was a response to Microsoft’s attempts to slam Windows into a new market, the iPod was a response to terrible music players, the iPhone was a reply to crappy smartphones, and the MacBook Air was a rebuttal of Atom powered netbooks. Apple only introduces a new gizmo when it is absolutely certain it can innovate successfully while growing its share of the industry’s profits. Apple has already answered the call for a computer platform that moves beyond the PC; simply making it smaller would seem to do little to address an unmet market need.

But Apple has already told Wall Street what need it wants to meet. The education business is based on decaying models ripe for real disruption, and Apple wants to be the agent of change. In January, Apple held a large press conference for what seemed to be a relatively minor announcement—an iTunes category for textbooks, a WYSIWYG e-book creator, and a new version of iBooks. The products unveiled were not especially important, but Apple’s articulation of its vision for the future was. Tim Cook wants Apple to be the dominant player in classroom technology. The iPad, Apple’s post-PC success darling, was the star of the show. Students were shown flipping through pages of text, looking at diagrams, and playing videos without ever having to turn on a Mac or open a book. What was a little strange, though, was the age of the students Apple used to showcase its products. Apple chose not focus on colleges, or even high schools, where the high price of textbooks makes iBooks an easy sell and an obvious fit. Instead, Apple decided to pitch iBooks for grade schools and middle schools, and did its best to show how iPads for all could change the face of the primary schoolhouse.

The problem Apple failed to acknowledge at the event was not one of software, but of hardware. Children love using iPads, but its size gets in the way. When adults and teenagers hold an iPad, or any other ten inch tablet, there’s an easy intimacy that defines the relationship. The iPad strikes a wonderful balance between a larger screen size, better for productivity, and a smaller size that’s easier to handle and carry around. When you give a smaller child an iPad that careful balance is immediately disrupted. An awkwardness is present that is never seen when adults play with a tablet. Children’s iPads are left propped up or prone, they are almost never held in the hands for extended periods of time. The iPad’s 9.7 inches, so perfect for adults, are just too much for kids. If Apple is as serious about selling iPads to schools as they say they are they will need to introduce a miniature tablet, one small enough to not intimidate younger learners or interfere with their digital education. With the iPad 2 and iBooks they already have the price point and the software, now all they need is the form factor.

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CES: The Best of The Best, as The Lights Dim… (Wrap-Up)

The 2012 Consumer Electronics Show has come and gone, and while there may not have been many high profile products announced (in fact many claim there was no clear “Best of Show”), this years CES brought a ton of awesome new gadgets just the same.

As there was not much activity on Day 3, the final day of the show, I decided I would highlight some of my personal favorite announcements – the best of the best – from throughout the week.

Google’s Android Style Guide
Although it isn’t really a product per-se, the Android Style Guide was released to developers on Day 3, and aims to help them in creating and designing beautiful apps for Android using the new style conventions introduced with Ice Cream Sandwich. The style guide is available now on Google’s Android Developer portal.

Windows 8 tablets
Intel, along with a few other companies, showed off some prototype Windows 8 tablets at the show. I must say, Microsoft is on a roll with their Windows products lately, following up the awesome Windows Phone 7 with the equally new and unique Windows 8. It features the same gorgeous Metro UI of WP7, and aims to provide an experience tailored for touch input, as well as the conventional keyboard and mouse. Microsoft has promised a beta of Windows 8 will be released in February.

Nokia Lumia 900
I’ve recently become a big fan of Windows Phone 7, and if you’re looking for the iPhone or Galaxy Nexus of Windows Phone, look no further than the Lumia 900 from Nokia. The first LTE offspring of the Microsoft / Nokia deal, the Nokia Lumia 900 is described by company CEO (and fellow Canadian) Stephen Elop as “the first real Windows Phone”. It’s a gorgeous device that features an 8 megapixel Carl Zeiss shooter on the back, and a beautiful 4.3” display on the front.

LG’s 55 inch OLED TV and LG’s LM series 1mm bezel TV’s
LG pulled out the big guns at this years CES, showcasing a 55 inch OLED TV that The Verge states was “making love to our eyes”. LG also announced the LM series of TV’s that feature a tiny 1mm bezel. They are absolutely stunning, and all of these models will be arriving sometime in 2012.

Samsung Smart TV
This wasn’t necessarily one of my favorite products, but it is an interesting one nonetheless. Samsung announced a new Smart TV that the user can control using, yes, their voice. Wasn’t there another company rumored to be working on a voice-controlled television? Oh yeah…

Sony Xperia S
Sony’s first Android phone to debut sans-Ericsson was the Xperia S. It’s a cool looking phone that actually features a transparent plastic strip along the bottom which functions as the antenna. Neat! Unfortunately, it’s still running Gingerbread, and it is skinned, though not as heavily as some of Sony’s previous Xperia devices. This one will be hitting AT&T in the US soon.

Vizio’s all-in-one computer and thin-and-light laptops
Vizio, known mostly for their line of discount TV’s, unveiled their first foray into the personal computer market at CES. Their new all-in-one features a very modern design, announced alongside matching peripherals including a keyboard, external trackpad, and subwoofer. The all-in-one also features an HDMI input, meaning you could hook up a Blu-ray player or game console to it and essentially use the monitor as a TV.

Vizio also showcased a line of thin-and-light laptops that they insist are not Ultrabooks! Vizio says their new portables match or outdo Intel’s Ultrabook specs. The laptops are gorgeous for Windows machines, and feature the same modern and sleek design as the company’s all-in-one.

Canon PowerShot G1 X
Canon launched the G1 X, a camera with the power and performance of a DSLR, but in the body of a point-and-shoot. The $799 camera features a 14.3 megapixel sensor and a non-interchangeable 15.1-60.4mm zoom lens. The G1 X is meant for photographers that already own a DSLR, but want something more portable to carry around that can provide the same superior image quality. The G1 X is one sexy piece of kit, though a little out of my price-range…

And that is the best of the best at this year’s CES. Thanks for joining Current Editorials on our look at CES 2012!
Links via The Verge and Engadget.