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This Week in Tablets: Are the rumors about Apple's 7-inch iPad true?

by George Jones

May 12 2012

George Jones has been writing about technology and reviewing hardware since 1992


Also inside: Citrix makes a household pitch that counts, and Intel attacks ARM on Windows 8 compatibility.

I’ll confess: Whenever I hear about Citrix’ virtualization client, I wrinkle my nose a little. Sure it’s practical and secure, but the notion of using a virtualized Windows experience on an iPad or Android tablet sounds counterintuitive to me.

However, some of Citrix’ other products make much more sense, particularly in home productivity, lifestyle, and collaborative capacities. Earlier this week, Citrix staged its Synergy conference in San Francisco and announced a handful of new products and releases to its existing line.

A new GoToMeeting client named HDFaces for iPad intrigues me for work purposes. It allows screen sharing and is cross compatible with most other platforms, including Android and Windows.

Also interesting was Citrix’ positioning of its newly announced ShareFile cloud storage solution as an iCloud competitor instead of a Dropbox competitor. It’s a more appealing comparison, that’s for sure—and the service makes a whole lot of sense for existing Citrix shops.

The most intriguing product announcement however, was the discussion around GoToAssist for mobile devices, which now includes Android support.

The software, which is free, allows you to remotely take over and control another users system in order to troubleshoot problems. Of course, this is very helpful for IT support. But from my perspective, it’s also extremely helpful for the FTO (Family Technology Officer) of your household. Which, if you’re reading this, is probably you.

Trust me: Remote troubleshooting your kids’ or your parents’ or your wife’s parents’ devices is literally priceless.

Apple 4x rumors? Must be getting close to WWDC

In Silicon Valley and the greater Bay Area, speculating on stocks and IPOs is a full contact sport, and aside from Facebook, one of the companies everyone is talking about is Apple. How high can it go? Did it peak at $636 per share back in March? If not, how high will AAPL go?

It’s hard to imagine this being the end of such an amazing run. Here’s why. First, the rest of the world is finally beginning to buy iPhones. Second, after we all buy iOS devices, we’ll begin to buy other Apple devices, like Apple TV, MacBooks, or whatever else Apple releases down the road—like the rumored Apple television set.

This is the advantage of a superior and closed ecosystem. Once consumers get their toe in the water, it’s just a matter of time before they dive in. I have an iPhone and an iPad. I’ll likely be purchasing an Apple TV device this coming week because I love the idea of casting whatever apps or music is on my iPad onto my home theater system.

Even if the rumor mill doesn’t hold true, I tracked four different tales about different iOS products, enhancements, and releases this week. Most companies will be the subject of one or two product rumors. The fact that Apple has so many more is a sure sign that interest in its products hasn’t even come close to peaking.

Which rumors are to be believed?

Apple TV. A new iCloud release. Anew proprietary map app that replaces Google Maps. And the 7-inch iPad rumors. All four products got heavy play this week, which is more remarkable the more I think about it.

So, what’s the likelihood of each panning out?

Kicking Google Maps out is a no-brainer, as is the iCloud upgrade. Both are inevitable—if they don’t get announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June, they’ll surface later.

The Apple television rumor is an interesting one. It would be a bold move, but I don’t think it’s ready for prime time, even if multiple sources on the supply side are confirming.

Releasing a television is a big risk, at least partially because of marketplace dynamics. Apple would be able to get away with its premium pricing; very few consumers will pay $2,000 for a 50-inch screen these days, even if it comes with Siri, a face-tracking camera, and an online streaming subscription service.

 If Apple finds a way to bring the price down and incorporate the same app ecosystem it has succeeded with in mobile, it could work. But the concept still feels premature.

Which leads us to the 7-inch iPad. I’ve already gone on record as saying it’s a no-brainer for Apple. This is the one category that Apple has heretofore ceded to Amazon, and the Kindle Fire’s success vets the form-factor.

But the trick is that if Apple simply releases a 7-inch version of its iPad, it will fall into the same trap other manufacturers have fallen into. By its size and nature, a smaller tablet is used in different ways than a 10-inch device. Apple must acknowledge this and craft a product that is unique enough that 10-inch iPad owners will want one.

What does this mean? I’m going to stake some speculation around a stylus, a unique Smart Cover-type cover, and some level of heightened integration with home theater.

Whatever Apple comes up with, I’m betting that come June 11, we’ll hear about the new iPad mini as well as a new iOS update that encompasses maps as well as iCloud.

This week’s winner: Pocket

Whoever decided to pull the Read It Later branding off and go with the name Pocket for Read It Later’s media clipping iPad app is a genius. The app has been downloaded 2 million times since its debut a few weeks ago, raising the user base to 5 million. Impressive.

This week’s loser: Intel

Let’s be clear. Overall, Intel’s business is strong. The company is selling a whole bunch of processors to PC, laptop, and ultrabook manufacturers around the globe. However, thus far, the chip-making giant is being left out of the tablet revolution entirely. This is a massive problem, and it’s becoming clearer that Intel sees this.

What’s really surprising is CEO Paul Otellini playing the Windows 8 legacy compatibility card on tablet manufacturers and ARM licensees at Intel’s investor meeting this past week.

Granted, his point is valid to some degree – organizations solely reliant on x86-based Windows software will have no choice but to pass on ARM-based tablets. However, Otellini is overlooking three important points here, which is surprising.

First, tablets are largely supplemental devices for corporations, and not replacements. Second, many organizations are already moving through the legacy app problem on the iPad.

And third and finally, organizations that are solely reliant on legacy Windows software are going to face daunting IT challenges in the coming years, if they aren’t already.

In the meantime, even Intel’s partners are exploring alternative processor relationships. Back in February, Dell server GM Forrest Norrod made it clear the company would explore using ARM CPU architectures for its server architecture, of all things. I’m sure we’ll see more over time.

The big question isn’t whether Intel’s Medfield SoC mobile processor will operate well on the all-important performance per watt scale. Based on the company’s track record in the ultra-low power category, this seems like a no-brainer.

No, the big question is whether or not Intel can shrug off such a slow start and catch up with the tidal wave of ARM devices by 2013. A strong working relationship with Motorola around Intel’s upcoming Medfield SoC processor may help showcase the new chip, but because most devices are already lightening fast, Intel is going to have to sell tremendous battery savings or some other tangible benefit to woo consumers and manufacturers.

Ironically, Intel has expressed concerns over compatibility before. Back when AMD was release its first x86 compatible processors, the company made it clear to OEMs and to IT buyers that AMD chips would create compatibilities with Windows.

(By the way, a close runner up for the week was the CTIA trade show, which threw a mobile party in New Orleans last week and forgot to bring any big news on tablets, the hottest new segment of mobile.)

On the horizon

What can we all expect in coming weeks? First, expect that the aforementioned Apple rumors, in addition to a few more new ones, will continue to percolate for the next few weeks as WWDC gets closer. We’ll hear lots of reports from the supply chain in China.

Also within the next few weeks, we’ll begin to hear even more specifics regarding Windows 8’s release date and perhaps even more specifics about the OS itself. Microsoft has to be close to locking down the code for a release candidate.

George Jones has been writing about technology and reviewing hardware since 1992

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