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Apple just made its iPhone taller and slimmer, but soon it's expected to introduce a smaller iPad.
Meanwhile, Samsung announced a mini-version of its Galaxy S III phone, while Amazon has a bigger Kindle Fire tablet coming out next month.
The lucrative market for mobile devices is making tech companies try on all sizes. But are these seemingly endless variations just marketing ploys?
Analysts say this is one case where size does matter, and that a company like Apple is well aware that a device's proper dimensions depend on how people use the device.
"I have to believe they're really responding to consumer demand," Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies Inc. of Campbell, said of the much-rumored release of what pundits are calling the iPad mini.
"Seven-inch tablets are actually great for content consumption, for reading books, for playing back movies and for music videos," he said. "Where 10-inch models work better is (they) can be used for content consumption and content creation, whereas the 7-inch model is strictly going to be for content consumption."
Various reports indicate Apple is gearing up to manufacture an iPad mini, with a screen size of about 7.8 inches, to add to its 9.7-inch iPad. The timing of its release is still in question - the latest report is Oct. 23 - and Apple won't even confirm the existence of such a device.
But the product could provide a powerful follow-up to last month's successful introduction of the iPhone 5, which is 0.37 of an inch taller than the previous version.
'Right' size varies
Samsung Thursday officially unveiled its Galaxy S III Mini, a smartphone whose 4-inch screen is nearly an inch smaller than its predecessor.
The emergence of smartphones set off a mobile revolution, giving people a pocket-size version of their bulky desktop PCs, with browsers for accessing websites and apps for games and programs. But they were not as good for content creation, such as long written projects or photo editing.
Then the larger-screen iPad and other tablet computers grew in popularity because they made more of such content creation possible while providing a better view of videos and websites.
A 10-inch tablet "is great for the way most Americans use it, in front of the TV, in a hotel room or at the office," said Tom Mainelli, research director at tech market analyst IDC.
But at that size, it isn't as mobile as a smartphone. And in other regions of the world, "they want an iPad, but they want a smaller iPad," he said.
In Japan, for example, "everyone rides a train, so a 10-inch tablet is too big" to comfortably balance on a lap or hold in one hand, he said.
The 5 1/2-inch Samsung Galaxy Note has done well in Asia because "there, they saw it as a small tablet," Mainelli said. But it's fared less well in the United States, where "it feels like a really big phone," he said.
So the void between smartphones and full tablets has been filled with e-reader/mini tablets like the Kindle and Nook, which are also marketed as being cheaper than an iPad. And Google has its own 7-inch tablet, the Nexus 7.
An iPad mini, especially if priced in the $299-$349 range, "is the competition's worst nightmare," Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu said in a research report last week.
Bajarin believes Apple will market the iPad mini as "a consumer consumption device," good for reading books and Web browsing or watching movies while on the go.
"Holding it in your hand would be a heck of a lot easier than a traditional iPad," he said.
Also, while the regular iPad has also become a hit in the business world, the focus of Apple's marketing of the iPad mini "will be more on consumers who are budget-conscious," Bajarin said. Meanwhile, he said, "the upper-end tablet is not going to go away."
Mainelli also expects an iPad mini could become popular in the education market. Some colleges and high schools are already requiring students to have the regular iPad, but a smaller, cheaper version could open the market further.
"A 7.8-inch mini is a slam-dunk in elementary schools," he said. "It would cost less and be perfectly suited for smaller hands."
Mainelli expects the entrance of an iPad mini to further expand an exploding tablet market. He projects that the number of tablets shipped worldwide will grow from 117.1 million this year, already up from 70.9 million in 2011, to 261.4 million in 2016.
Last year, 7-inch tablets made up about 25 percent of the total tablet market. "Down the road, I wouldn't be surprised if 7-inch tablets, or less than 8 inches, would comprise half the market," he said.
Meanwhile, tech companies will continue to experiment with different sizes and configurations of all mobile devices.
"They are playing with the form factors and even with screen sizes within spitting differences of each other," Mainelli said.