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Why the iPad Air makes rumors of a 13-inch iPad a bit more believable

Apple rumors are a dime a dozen, and an overwhelming majority never materialize. So, when the rumors of an almost-13-inch iPad made the rounds earlier this year, it was easy to dismiss it as just another whisper in the endless hum of Apple conjecture. But then Phil Schiller took the stage in San Francisco and showed off the iPad Air for the first time... and the mega-iPad rumors suddenly make a bit more sense.

An odd lineup

Right now, Apple is selling four tablets: iPad 2, iPad mini, iPad mini with Retina, and iPad Air. The iPad 2 and standard iPad mini are arguably the "budget" options, while the Retina iPad mini and iPad Air are the top-of-the-line models -- at least for now.

The new iPad mini and the iPad Air are so remarkably close in terms of specs, the only important distinction between them is the screen size (9.7 inches vs. 7.9 inches) and even that isn't really all that big of a choice.

They're both powered by the A7 chip, the camera capabilities are identical, they are both shockingly lightweight, etc. At just $100 USD difference between the two base models, it all comes down to how big you want your display to be.

It's not out of the ordinary for Apple to occasionally allow two of its products to come dangerously close to each other in terms of specs, but the company uses these moments as an opportunity to once again widen the gap with a ridiculously desirable new device. You need only look at Apple's notebooks for proof of this: For a time, the MacBook Air was encroaching on the MacBook Pro's turf, and some questioned the feasibility of both products existing side by side. That is, until Apple showed us the MacBook Pro with Retina, and the tech world collectively nodded its head in understanding.

Room for more

While the iPad Air is currently being billed as the big dog in the iPad cage, it doesn't set itself apart from the rest of the company's tablet offerings -- especially the Retina iPad mini -- in any truly meaningful way. But why not? Why doesn't the top-of-the-line iPad offer some of the company's newest toys like Touch ID and slow-motion video capture? Why does the bigger and heavier of the two newly-minted tablets carry the "Air" label?

Maybe it's because the iPad Air isn't meant to be Apple's most feature-filled tablet. Maybe there's an iPad Pro on the horizon. If it exists -- and that's a remarkably huge "if" -- it follows that the device may be bigger (13 inches, for example), faster, heavier, and more pricey. It would also probably include Touch ID, slow-motion video, and some other bells and whistles, and its existence would put the iPad Air in a place it would make sense: A lighter, smaller, less feature-packed alternative to the top-of-the-line Apple tablet.

So, does an iPad Pro really exist?

As easy as it is to pretend that these factors point to a new, larger iPad, reality has a way of reminding me that I've never wished a 13-inch iPad exists. The biggest argument against the iPad as it stands now is that it's significantly more expensive than its modern competitors, and introducing an even more expensive version of the device wouldn't exactly help the brand to appear more consumer friendly. Of course, neither does a $2,999 über-powerful desktop computer, but Apple's got one of those, too.

If there is a market for larger tablets -- and I imagine there is, especially among creative types -- a super-iPad would probably do quite well in that space. But will Apple tempt fate and look to capitalize on a new, possibly mythical class of consumer? The iPad itself is proof that they've had the guts to do it in the past, but the untold number of failed prototypes in Apple's basement suggests that they could just as easily ignore it altogether.

In short, I have no idea, and neither does anyone else (save a few Apple folks, of course). But if it does come to fruition, it would be a fantastic way for the company to once again set a new standard in tablets, and we could probably hold our breath for as long as it takes Apple's competitors to introduce their own mega-tablets as well.

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