A Tale of Two iPads

There's a Wall Street Journal article you should know about, if you don't already. It's about Apple doubling one of its most popular product lines, introducing a smaller, more affordable version to keep up with tough Android competition. The story broke on Valentine's Day, a tidy love note to Apple fanboys and fangirls everywhere.

I'm talking, of course, about this: last year's promise of a teeny, tiny, half-price iPhone. Why, did you have something else in mind?

Let's be clear about something right off: just because Apple didn't release a smaller, cheaper iPhone last year doesn't mean that Apple wasn't working on one, or didn't seriously consider releasing it. And I'm not doubting that the WSJ has sources who are intimately familiar with an 8-inch iPad prototype that's been assembled and poked and prodded in some dark Cupertino back hallway. Its report this morning isn't a fantasy. But it does ignore the one thing that we've always known about a smaller iPad: it'll never happen.

We've made the argument against the 7-inch iPad before, and the same holds true for an 8-inch display; it's just too small. Steve Jobs always hated the form. The company's reportedly had prototypes ready for years. But, as we learned from that tiny, cheap iPhone last year, and from the iPhone 5 rumors after that, and countless other missteps, a prototype does not a product make.

Right now, Kellogg has dozens of flavorologists chained to a dank test kitchen table, creating countless Eggo abominations. What if we threw some kale in there?. You'll never find a kale waffle in your grocer's freezer. Every year, at dozens of auto shows around the world, car companies show off concept models that will never, ever come to fruition, and aren't supposed to. They exist so that GM and Ford and Nissan can figure out what works, what customers want, what they can take from Column A and Column B to combine and mass produce. These experiments happen without incident, in the latter case because it's industry standard, and in the former because no one cares.

But then there's Apple, a company whose ability to keep a secret is second only to its ability to foment anticipation around its products. It's a unique situation, where every presumed leak creates a scramble for conclusions. The straws are few, we grasp wildly. We're guilty of it. Most are. Let's get this one right, though.

Apple has no reason to sell a smaller iPad. None. It dominates its category in the way that virtually no other product anywhere does. Does that mean that Apple's not testing out an 8-inch model? Of course not. But let's not confuse due diligence for a treasure map. And let's not take every love note at face value.