The rumour bandwagon is loose, talking about an upcoming 7″ iOS tablet device. Steven Sande at TUAW notes that Apple has already created a rather broad range of iPods, begging the question as to whether they’ll do similar with iOS devices.
Apple, however, has managed to turn the iPod line into four completely different products — the minimalist shuffle, the tiny touch screen nano, the Classic, and the iPod touch.
The difference between the iPod lineup and iOS device lineup, however, is that the former is in a transitionary state. The iPod Classic is the only staple iPod model, with the others initially holding niche markets; the Classic was the generic model for most people, and in a way, still is. Apple introduced the iPod Mini for those people who didn’t need a lot of storage space, and giving them a smaller iPod footprint was a bonus. The Nano has since replaced the Mini, and has consistently gotten smaller. The Shuffle targeted that group of people who didn’t need a full-featured MP3 player, and simply wanted something lightweight and simple to take on workouts. And of course, the Touch was the quintessential iOS prototype.
But as some have noted, this lineup doesn’t feel final, and it shouldn’t. The only thing keeping the Classic around is its large storage capacity, but as solid-state storage sizes continue to grow, the Classic will eventually be phased out by a large-capacity Touch. And footprint wise, the Nano and Shuffle are very similar now, so it’s quite conceivable that the Shuffle will eventually be phased out as well, leaving the lineup with different capacity Touch and Nano iPods (though a 2GB Nano probably won’t hit the $50 price-point of the Shuffle for a little while, yet).
So when it comes to the iOS lineup, which is much younger and therefore definitively more final, we shouldn’t see much redundancy. If a 7″ iPad was designed to eventually replace the current iPad, or even the Touch, then maybe it would make sense, but let’s be clear: Apple isn’t going to phase out either, because they’re both great sellers, and are clearly targeted at different markets. A 7″ iPad is a device in limbo, not really filling the purpose of either device.
The Touch is ultra-portable. It’s the light-weight iOS device on the market, and ultimately the flagship of the iPod lineup, so it’s definitely here to stay. The iPad isn’t just a multimedia machine, however, which the Touch is designed to be. Rather, it’s a multimedia machine that’s much more comfortable to use for creating things; it’s a capable notebook replacement for most people, working wonderfully for writing, and even serving as a content creation system in other areas as well, thanks to its larger screen.
A 7″ iOS device doesn’t offer anything new, however. It’s not that much smaller than the iPad, but it’s small enough to be less useful as a canvas for word-processing and graphics. It’d have a smaller battery than the iPad also, and you’d still have to throw it in a bag, because unlike the Touch, it won’t fit in your pocket. This thing wouldn’t cannibalize sales of the Touch or iPad, it simply wouldn’t sell in the first place, especially when costing within $135 of either the iPad or Touch.
Apple isn’t going to jump on the multiple-size tablet bandwagon just because a bunch of other manufacturers are doing so with Android; Apple’s lineup works, and there’s no reason to dilute their strategy with tablet sizes that make no sense.