Compared to the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch speculation, the buzz surrounding Apple’s October 16 event has been as subdued as Tim Cook’s southern drawl. Yes, we’ll probably see new iPads, and rumor has it, they’ll be a bit thinner. They’ll likely have TouchID built in. And there’s a good chance they’ll have faster, A8 processors. In other words, set your iPhone 6’s alarm to wake you up once this sleepy, predictable announcement is over. You probably won’t miss anything.
Unless, of course, Apple announces a bigger iPad.
Here, the rumors are anything but mundane. Could we see a hybrid tablet-laptop like the Microsoft Surface? Would we we get a big, bright 4K display? And would a big iPad get a massive performance upgrade, more like a MacBook Pro than an iPad Mini?
With the rumors swirling, we set out to determine the pros and cons of such a launch. Is it the right move for Apple?
Here are three reasons for Apple to release a bigger iPad, and a corresponding counterpoint for each.
#1: People like big devices. Just look at the iPhone 6 Plus…
Apple may have waited seven years to do it, but in 2014, a big-screen iPhone was an obvious choice. At FindTheBest, we charted the mix of small- (under 4.5”), medium- (between 4.5” and 5.2”), and large-screen (over 5.2”) phones released each year since 2010:
Phone Size Over Time | FindTheBest
At this rate, phones over 5.2” will make up half the market by 2015. It was time for Apple to jump in. Consider also that bigger phones tend to have better specs and higher scores from the experts. In the chart below, we plotted our Smart Ratings (which combine specs, features, benchmarks and expert review scores) against screen size:
Screen Size vs. Smart Rating | FindTheBest
As the screen size gets bigger, the phone gets better. This isn’t just a coincidence. Larger phones have more room under the hood for bigger, better components. So why not apply the same logic and make a bigger iPad?
…but the tablet market is a lot different than the smartphone market.
Plot the same data for tablets, however, and things quickly get muddy. Here’s the mix of tablets released each year since 2010 (small: under 9”, medium: 9” to 11”, large: over 11”):
Tablet Size Over Time | FindTheBest
While large tablets have seen a small resurgence in 2014, there’s no clear trend. Will giant tablets stay a niche item or mount a big comeback? It’s too early to say. Small tablets have certainly gotten more popular since 2010, but outside of that, the market remains murky.
And are bigger tablets better, by the numbers? Not really:
Screen Size vs. Smart Rating | FindTheBest
Add it all up, and a large tablet is simply a bigger risk than a giant phone. There’s no obvious market precedent, and the best tablets come in all sizes — not just big ones.
#2: You can charge a premium for big tablets…
If there’s one thing Apple loves more than promotional U2 events and aluminum unibodies, it’s profit margins. At FindTheBest, we looked at the average price, by size category, for over 1,600 phones and 750 tablets. We found one surprising standout:
Average base-model MSRP (no contract) for phones and tablets:
Small phones: $343
Medium phones: $368
Large phones: $397
Small tablets: $304
Medium tablets: $533
Large tablets: $899
Tablets over 11” tend to cost nearly three times as much as their mini-tablet counterparts, and more than any smartphone, even out of contract. Granted, a bigger, faster tablet will be more expensive to make, but Apple probably wouldn’t mind adding another option at the high-end. As Android and Amazon race to the bottom with sub-$200 tablets, Apple would be more than happy to win the $899 to $1,299 range. In tech, no one does luxury better (or more readily) than Apple.
…but there just aren’t that many big tablets, and they don’t seem to be selling particularly well.
Of the 750+ tablets we used to calculate the above averages, only 25 were over 11 inches, so we’re already working with a small sample size. And then look at sales. It’s tough to get an accurate breakdown from manufacturers, but consider that (as of this writing) you have to page through 50 different tablets on Amazon’s best seller list before you get to your first 12” tablet (the Microsoft Surface 3). iPads, small Amazon Kindles and 7-inch Android tablets are selling well. Big tablets are not.
So while that $899 base price point might look attractive at a glance, it’s based on a handful of niche products with (likely) mediocre sales.
#3: It’s the obvious (and only) place for Apple to go next…
In 2010, Apple made mobile devices in just two sizes (not counting iPods): a 3.5-inch iPhone and a 9.7-inch iPad. Jump ahead to 2014, however, and Apple has quietly created a run of six distinct size options, with a tidy increase of about 15%-20% in screen size per model.
As long as these things keep selling, why not try the next size up?
…but how do we know the tablet isn’t just a fad?
Tablet sales are still growing, but they’re decelerating, according to research firm IDC. “The market is still being impacted by the rise of large-screen smartphones and longer than anticipated ownership cycles,” says IDC’s Research Director Jean Philippe Bouchard. IDC has been forced to revise its previous tablet growth estimates, while Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly told Re/code that tablet sales are “crashing” at the company’s brick-and-mortar stores.
Some commenters suggest that a deluxe, jumbo-sized iPad might be the solution to this problem—a tablet that can actually compete with PCs, task for task.
But what if the tablet’s slowing growth is just the beginning? What if the world is satisfied with a 6-inch smartphone, rather than a 12-inch tablet? And finally, what if Apple suspects all of this already, and that’s why its newest device isn’t a 12-inch tablet, but a 42-mm wristwatch? Only time will tell.
This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.
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