Though all Apple rumors should be taken with a huge pill of skepticism, the tidbit floating around today about a mini 7.85-inch screen iPad via The New York Times's Nick Wingfield and Nick Bilton is worth taking seriously. Not only does this follow two similar reports from the usually reliable Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, who had their sources citing the 7-inch device the week of July 4, but looking back at recent Times rumormongering, the paper has gotten things generally right.
Before we get to just how much we should trust the Times' Apple rumoring, let's clarify what believable nugget of information that Times has bestowed upon us for us to cherish until Apple makes the actual announcement. Here's the paragraph that matters, from Wingfield and Bilton:
The company is developing a new tablet with a 7.85-inch screen that is likely to sell for significantly less than the latest $499 iPad, with its 9.7-inch display, according to several people with knowledge of the project who declined to be named discussing confidential plans. The product is expected to be announced this year.
In short: smaller, cheaper tablet coming to Apple fans sometime this year.
Again, that aligns with earlier reports, but perhaps more important, this rumor comes from a source that has done well with its last two Apple device predictions. Before the iPhone 4S came out, Bilton got the date, camera, and A5 processor right. Though, he did allude to the possibility of a different outside, he didn't say it with certainty. "An engineer familiar with the new iPhone said it would be fairly different from the iPhone 4 — including on the inside," he wrote. That wasn't exactly right, but it wasn't wrong, either. The iPhone 4S is "fairly different" -- just only on the inside. When it came to the new iPad, while the tech whisperers predicted a new name, HD screen, and a thicker shell, The Times got an Apple employee calling it "essentially the same size and shape as the iPad 2," with a "truly amazing" screen, and did not speculate about a new name. All of that came with the new iPad: a familiar name and shape with a Retina display nobody would shut up about.
Beyond the Times' rumor record, this tidbit just makes sense. Though Steve Jobs said nasty things about a mini-version of his creation, circumstances have since changed. The iPad has real competitors with the Kindle Fire and even more so with Google's Nexus 7, which has gotten all around good reviews since its announcement a few weeks ago. Just this morning, for example, MG Siegler writing for TechCrunch said -- with surprise -- he "really" likes it. "I love my iPad from the screen size on down. And I didn’t think it would be possible to build a great tablet at such a low price," he writes. "But I was wrong." That follows similar praise from noted Apple-phile and New York Times gadget man David Pogue and The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, who called it the "toughest challenger to the iPad." The love isn't just for the device's make, but for its price. It costs hundreds less than an iPad, yet, it doesn't feel as cheap as the Kindle Fire. With that hype, plus Google Nexus shipments having started last week, getting this cheaper, smaller tablet rumor out there will give Apple back some of the tablet attention it's not used to sharing.
Meanwhile, the techies say Amazon is working on a bigger Kindle Fire to compete with the original iPad. And, this also mirrors Apple's iPod strategy, in which the company released smaller makes at more palatable prices. The details add up.
This shouldn't take all the fun out of Apple product speculation. Even if the Times says it, doesn't mean it's true. Plus, we have a possible iPhone 5 to dream about.