Since the first credible rumors of a 7.85-inch iPad started surfacing last October, we have been trying to wrap our heads around what is coming. Beyond what is already reported, our sources haven’t had much to say…yet.

But that gives us some time for some broad Mini iPad speculation:

A 7.85-inch iPad with a 3:4 screen ratio is not the same thing as a 7-inch 16:10 Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire. For better or worse, it is much bigger. Take these drawings from @trojankitten that were popular a few weeks ago:

Better, of course, being more screen real estate. While that will not help much for video content, which is generally in the 16:9 format, web pages will look better, Maps will be bigger, and, perhaps most importantly, books will be easier to read. Worse is that it is going to be much harder to fit in your pocket. In fact, as tight as the Nexus 7 is in those skinny jeans and purses, I am going to go ahead and say this form factory will be close to impossible to fit in pants pockets. So, forget that.

So, what is this thing good for?

Kids.

The current iPad is not terribly heavy for normal adults when reading in short bursts. However, those things start to get heavy after a while. Imagine a 9-year-old who wants to use the iPad in the same way. That iPad gets heavier much quicker for them, and it is a harder thing to lug around all day in your backpack to and from the bus stop for school. If Apple can halve the weight of a full size iPad…that is a pretty good sell to parents who do not want to give their kids scoliosis.

Remember: Steve Jobs said you need to sharpen your fingers to use a 7-inch tablet. Well, kids have ‘sharp’ fingers and even sharper eyes, and the whole 10-inch experience scales down to a ‘scaled down person’ very nicely. Has your kid ever dropped an iPad on his bare foot? Ouch! Half the weight makes a big difference there.

Also, remember Apple has a lot invested in Education on the iPad. At its Education event earlier this year, the company touted the ability of iPads to be the de facto standard in education and learning.

If you want every kid in the school to have an iPad, a lighter device that is $200 per student is a lot more palatable than $400 per student to the administrators who make these decisions.

TV Remote:

Perhaps this $200 device is what Jobs was referring to when he said he cracked the code on the TV market. Combined with AirPlay and many Apps with HD video content, the iPad Mini becomes the ultimate remote control.

You preview what you want to watch on a little screen, and, if it is what you are after, you send it to the big screen. The current iPads are a little large for this (and expensive), while the iPod touch and iPhones are a little small. Fred Wilson made a great point about the size on his blog (though, he is replacing his iPads with Nexus 7s):

Recently, we did an overhaul of our beach house and it was time to get a couple controllers. I had just gotten my Nexus 7 and the idea that I was going to go out and purchase a couple $399 iPads bugged me [I'm sure]. I asked them if I could use a Nexus 7 instead. We did some research and indeed all the apps we needed for our various equipment were on Android. So we went with the Nexus 7 instead.

Yesterday I saw one of the partners in the audio/video company and he had my Nexus 7 in his hand. I said, “how does it feel?” he replied “it’s fantastic, the form factor is perfect”. The iPad works as a controller but it is a bit bulky for that use case. And a phone is a bit small for many remotes. A 7″ tablet can be held comfortably in one hand and the screen size is really perfect for remote applications.

You get the point on size and at $200 it more resembles the price of a high end Harmony-type universal remote and could wind up living permanently in the TV room.

Colors?

When Apple released the iPod mini in 2004, it released the product in a variety of fun colors (silver, blue, green, pink, and gold). The iMac, which is a scaled down, ‘everyman’-type of computer, also showed its colorful side after the Bondi-blue version debuted in the late 90s.

To this day, Apple’s Shuffles and Nanos are colorized because they are largely aimed at a younger crowd. It would be nice (and a great differentiator) to see these released in a few more colors besides black and white. Perhaps Apple goes with anodized aluminium coloring like the iPods, or maybe it goes back to plastic —a la the original iPad prototype— to save even more cost and weight. I have to admit; I like the feel of whatever rubbery plastic ASUS put on the back of the Nexus 7 and I am not afraid of droppin git on my foot.

Price:

The New York Times said the price of the iPad mini would be below the current iPad. Well, no shit. The question becomes how low? The $200 price point seems to be the lowest that ASUS/Google and Amazon can currently take their devices, even with razor thin margins. Even Samsung, which makes most of its tablet parts in-house, has a tough time getting to $200 on its tablets, at least at launch.

So, Apple, with its service network, higher margins, and higher expectations of build quality, might have a hard time getting to $200. On the other hand, Apple has a huge amount of scale, parts buying power, and it has waited a long time to introduce, so it might be able to get the price down to $200. Also, Apple might be willing to forgo some of those initial margins—especially knowing it will make a lot of it back on the other side with its media and App stores. Maybe it is cheaper to make the device in Brazil?

Ryan Jones shows that there is a reason Apple may have to hit this price point:

The Name:

Finally, I think Mark had some solid observations on the name of this thing last week…

…that go back to Phil Schiller’s comment on the name of the iPad 3.

Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, simply said that Apple broke from the convention “because we don’t want to be predictable.”

That might not mean what you originally thought. Apple spends a lot of time on its branding, and, as one of its flagship products, it is not just going to “mix it up a bit.” It is likely that Apple goes to its MacBook Pro- and Air-type branding, where there is a name for the product (MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iPad) and the size (15, 13, 11, 10, 7). That being said, iPad mini also makes some sense.

We are still tracking the 7-inch iPad for what is turning out to be one heck of an October release that will also include the new, bigger iPhone with NFC, likely a 4-inch iPod, perhaps a Nano with Bluetooth, and who knows what else (new iMacs and Minis would be nice)?

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