An Opinion on the Viability of the Rumored 12.9″ iPad

Apple is reportedly developing yet another tier in its iPad lineup – an iPad with a 12.9\” screen.

According to this MarketWatch article, many in the technology sector doubt the viability of such a product, citing the trend towards more portable devices such as the iPad Mini tablet or the Galaxy Note smartphone.

It is worth noting that there were also a lot of doubts about the viability of the iPad Mini when it was first a rumor, and even after it was confirmed and initial specs released. It turned out to be very viable. People who are almost exclusively content consumers find it large enough for practical consumption, and small enough to be much more portable and convenient than alternatives.

I find that with all of these devices, people tend to fall into primarily one of two categories: content consumers and content creators. These groups are not mutually exclusive, rather they are more a way of describing how a user predominantly interacts with their device.

Content consumers are by far the larger of the two groups, and prefer devices that are easily portable while still presenting content in a manner that is easy to digest. Content creators need more horsepower and screen real-estate. This is not to say they don\’t want great portability as well, just that the requirements for content creation lower the importance of portability when buying decisions are made.

I personally use an iPad Air as while I mainly consume content, I do a lot of photo editing, something that is not practical on an iPad Mini. I still prefer to do the work on my 27\” iMac, but when I am mobile, using the iPad Air to download photos from my camera, edit them in a growing set of very sophisticated editing applications, and upload them to various photo gallery websites I use. (Primarily 500px and Instagram.)

The MarketWatch article also cites \’niche markets\’ as reasons why the device could be viable. Potential niche markets for a 12.9\” iPad could include medical imaging, GIS, photo editing, architecture, and any other arena where being able to see as much information as possible in the greatest detail as possible is highly important. These arenas involve large data.

And here is where the viability of such a device comes into question. As an example, I recently started listening to high definition music (such as that available at HDTracks, eClassical) on a portable DAP (digital audio player) which contains hardware capable of decoding and playing high definition audio at extremely high fidelity (analogous to a 12.9\” Retina display showing extremely high definition visual data).

I have found the following issues to be the greatest drawbacks, and my feeling at this time is that the iPad 12.9\” will suffer from the same:

  • Space: getting a reasonable amount of music on the device requires at least 64GB, if not 128GB. This increases the cost of the device.
  • Data transfer: it takes a lot longer to transfer all that data than a similar number of songs to an iPod.
  • Battery life: all the components necessary to power and play HD music with such high fidelity draw a lot of power.
  • Portability: there are many more audio components necessary for playing back HD music than are required in an iPod. Combine that with battery and storage requirements, and you wind up with a device that is difficult to treat as \”pocketable\”.
  • Cost: lots of space and a large battery in a \’small\’ chassis adds up to a high cost, even before you factor in the \”high definition\” components.

I find Apple to be amazingly resourceful in predicting actual or potential market trends, and managing to design around issues such as those I listed above. So if anyone can make a device like this work, it is Apple. But I don\’t think it will be easy to accurately judge the feasibility of such a device until there is a release of initial specifications after a confirmation of development.