Apple Reportedly Buying Up 8-inch Touchscreens to Build Smaller iPads

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In October 2010, the late Steve Jobs made an unexpected appearance on an Apple earnings call, telling analysts and reporters how his company’s iPhone had blown BlackBerry phones out of the water, how he thought Android wasn’t really an “open” mobile platform and, most interestingly, how Apple had no plans to make a 7-inch version of the iPad.

(MORE: Steve Jobs Disses BlackBerry, Google, and 7-inch Tablets)

“The reason we wouldn’t make a seven-inch tablet isn’t because we don’t want to hit a price point,” said Jobs. “It’s because we don’t think you can make a great tablet with a seven-inch screen.” This statement was preceded by the following:

One naturally thinks that a seven-inch screen would offer 70 percent of the benefits of a 10-inch screen. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. The screen measurements are diagonal, so that a seven-inch screen is only 45 percent as large as iPad’s 10-inch screen. You heard me right: just 45 percent as large.

While one could increase the resolution of the display to make up some of the difference, it is meaningless unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one-quarter of their present size.

But today, a report has surfaced saying that “in order to cope with increasing market competition including the 7-inch Kindle Fire from Amazon and the launch of large-size smartphones from handset vendors, Apple has been persuaded into the development of 7.85-inch iPads.” The report comes from DigiTimes, which quotes “sources in the supply chain” as saying that Apple has been buying up 7.85-inch touchscreens from LG, and is “likely to launch” a smaller iPad towards the end of next year “in addition to a new iPad scheduled to be released at the end of the first quarter.”

(MORE: iPad 3 Rumored to Launch Around Same Time as First Two iPads)

This is an Apple rumor, of course, which are notoriously shaky—and a lot could happen between now and this time next year, so take this all with a grain of salt. But the eventual release of a smaller, cheaper iPad shouldn’t be a huge stretch to anyone’s imagination.

Apple could—and this is purely speculation on my part—either outfit an 8-inch tablet with a 960×640 resolution to match the iPhone 4 or a 1024×768 resolution to match the current iPad. If the rumors saying that an iPad 3 with a 2048×1536 resolution will launch early next year hold up, then Apple might be wise to offer a device to split the difference between the iPhone/iPod Touch devices and a full-size iPad.

(MORE: Apple vs. Samsung: Here Come the Retina Display Tablets)

Of course, it’d do nothing for Jobs’ assertion that we’d need to sand our fingers down in order to use it, but people have been happily using iPhones and iPod Touches without augmenting their fingers for quite some time. That, and Tim Cook is in charge now. It’s been over a year since Jobs’ dismissal of 7-inch tablets; display technology has improved and—if you want to get technical—this would basically be an 8-inch tablet. Problem solved, right?

One of the key issues would be how to price an 8-inch iPad, and it’s kind of another reason why an 8-inch tablet would make a good addition to Apple’s lineup. You’ve currently got the iPod Touch starting at $199, and you’ve got the iPad starting at $499. An 8-inch Apple tablet priced at maybe $299 to $349 might be just the thing to win over people looking for something more than the smartphone-sized iPod Touch, at a far more manageable price tag than $499.

(MORE: Tablets: ‘Why Should Somebody Buy This Instead of an iPad?’)

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