What Steve Jobs said about an iPad "mini"

April 17, 2012: 2:07 PM ET

Rumors of an iPad with a smaller form factor have been picking up steam. Here's what Jobs said on that very subject.

ipadFORTUNE -- Rumors that Apple is building a smaller iPad have been picking up steam for some time. On Tuesday, Sterne Agee analysts Shaw Wu, a veteran Apple watcher, kicked off a new round of speculation when he told investors that an iPad "mini" was a question of when, not if. Wu said that the exact timing of the smaller tablet was difficult to predict and not "imminent."

Wu may well be right. Still, it's worth remembering what the late Steve Jobs said publicly about "mini" tablets. Back in October 2010, he made an unusual appearance in the Apple's (AAPL) quarterly earnings conference call to deliver withering tirade against Google's (GOOG) Android mobile platform. Then he switched to tablets and said the following (emphasis added):

I'd like to comment on the avalanche of tablets poised to enter the market in the coming months. First, it appears to be just a handful of credible entrants, not exactly an avalanche. Second, almost all of them use seven-inch screens as compared to iPad's near 10-inch screen. Let's start there. One naturally thinks that a seven-inch screen would offer 70% 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% as large as iPad's 10-inch screen. You heard me right; just 45% as large.

If you take an iPad and hold it upright in portrait view and draw an imaginary horizontal line halfway down the screen, the screens on the seven-inch tablets are a bit smaller than the bottom half of the iPad display. This size isn't sufficient to create great tablet apps in our opinion.

Well, one could increase the resolution of the display to make up for 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 the present size. Apple's done extensive user-testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff. There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them. This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps.

A full transcript is available here.

Then again, Jobs famously denied Apple was working on a phone back in 2004 just as Apple was, well, working on a phone. So it's unlikely that Jobs' 18-month-old tirade gives Apple rivals, who have been unable to compete in tablets so far, any comfort. Wu said a smaller iPad, at a lower price point, would be "the competition's worst nightmare."

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About This Author
Miguel Helft
Miguel Helft
Senior Writer, Fortune

Miguel Helft is a San Francisco-based Senior Writer at FORTUNE, where he covers Silicon Valley. He joined FORTUNE in August 2011 following a 5-year stint as a reporter at The New York Times covering companies like Apple, Facebook and Google. His knowledge of Silicon Valley and the tech world runs deep. He worked as a software engineer at Sun Microsystems in the late-1980s, and for the past 15 years, he has chronicled major industry events -- from the Microsoft antitrust trial to the dot-com boom and bust - at publications like the Industry Standard, the San Jose Mercury News and the Los Angeles Times. Born and raised in Argentina, Helft emigrated to the U.S. to attend Stanford University, where he earned a BA in Philosophy and a Master's in Computer Science.

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