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Is there room in Apple’s lineup for a 5-inch or 7-inch mid-sized iOS device?

We have heard rumors in the past that claim Apple is working on a 7.85-inch iPad. Some even point to production beginning as early as Q2 2012. However, a translated report from Japanese blog Macotakara today claimed Apple’s suppliers are readying 5-inch Retina displays for a device in 2013 (coincidentally, Samsung announced selling 3 million 5-inch Galaxy Notes in just four weeks today):

The 5-inch Retina Display Product which is expected to be Released in 2013, and resolution of this LCD will be 1,600 x 960 pixel (800 x 480 by legacy majour) or 1,280 x 960 pixel (640 x 480)

The publication cited “reliable sources” in China that are presumably close to display suppliers, but there is good reason to doubt Apple will launch a 5-inch iOS device.

To know why a 5-inch iOS device would not work, we simply have to look at why a 7.85-inch iPad would.

AppAdvice pointed us to calculations it did showing a 7.85-inch 1024-by-768 display results in a PPI of 163, which is the same as non-Retina iPhones and the first-generation iPad. This means existing apps would translate perfectly to a 7.85-inch iPad’s 1024-by-768 screen under Apple’s UI guidelines. The same cannot be said for a 5-inch device with a display at the resolutions noted in today’s report. As for usability of the apps on the smaller display, which is something Steve Jobs said would be an issue for 7-inch tablets, AppAdvice explained:

…when Apple was designing its first iPhone (circa 2006), company engineers determined through testing that the minimum comfortable size for an interactive element on a touchscreen display is 44 x 44 pixels. Anything smaller would yield erratic results. The pixel density used to arrive at this number, naturally, was that used in the first iPhone — again, 163 PPI. (Note that with the advent of the Retina display, the term “points” is used instead of “pixels.” However, Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines still call for a direct equivalent based on the original measurement. For example, the new iPhone 4/4S HIG has its interactive minimum set at 44 x 44 points, which is 88 x 88 pixels.) In layman’s terms, all this simply means that no app has tappable input zones smaller than Apple’s approved dimensions. Whatever the size of a given menu option in a given iPad app, it cannot shrink beyond Apple’s pre-established minimum. It might take a bit more hand-eye coordination, but overall interaction should not be affected.

That 163PPI is a long way from confirming the existence of an additional device, but Apple will have to take on the Kindle Fires and Nook touches of the word if it wants to totally dominate the tablet space, because they seem to have found a low-priced niche.

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Avatar for Jordan Kahn Jordan Kahn

Jordan writes about all things Apple as Senior Editor of 9to5Mac, & contributes to 9to5Google, 9to5Toys, & He also co-authors 9to5Mac’s Logic Pros series.