I argued last fall that:
“Much has been made recently about Apple making a 7 inch version of it’s popular iPad as reported by iLounge. But does it make sense for Apple to introduce a smaller version of the iPad? I argue that it does. Here’s why.”
Boy was I wrong….
Then Steve Jobs said this during Apple’s Q4 2010 Earnings Call:
“Given that all tablet users will already have a smartphone in their pocket, giving up precious display area to fit a tablet in their pocket is clearly the wrong trade off. The seven-inch tablets are tweeners, too big to be a phone and too small to compete with the iPad….We are not not making a seven-inch tablet because we don’t want to hit a lower price point. We just believe it’s too small to hit the user experience people want…..It (seven-inch screen) is useless unless you include sandpaper so users can sand their fingers down to a quarter of their size…The current crop of seven-inch tablets are DOA — dead on arrival”
There where two possible interpretations of this:
- Take Steve Jobs at his word and that Apple has experimented with various sizes of iPads and found 9.7″ to be the sweet spot.
- Assume this is an industry head fake like when Steve Jobs said no one wanted to watch video on a small screen or that ebook readers where a bad idea.
Until recently I would have said it was Option 2 and the correct way to read into Job’s comments was that “seven inch tablets are DOA until Apple shows the industry how to do it properly”. This was my assumption until something happened. And that something is summed up in three words:
Samsung Galaxy Tab
Picking up the device for the first time I was pleasantly surprised by the weight and even the thickness (the Tab doesn’t taper it’s thickness like the iPad which makes it more “grippable” and easier to hold onto)(although such things are subjective at best) I’ve made no bones about the fact that I’m no fan of Android and the build of Android that Sumsung put on the Tab didn’t change my mind one bit. What I was focused on was how well a touch based OS translated into a 7″ form factor and I wasn’t impressed.
The chief problem with the Galaxy Tab is the fact that it never gets past feeling like a large, scaled up Android Phone. For all the hyperbolic (and in hindsight predictably foolish) Internet commentary about how the iPad was nothing more than “a big iPod Touch”, Apple and the App Store developers have clearly shown that the iPad is indeed it’s own separate and distinct creation. The iPad is neither a big iPod Touch nor a Mac, despite the fact that it borrows features and use cases from both. Case in point:
The 9.7″ Keyboard
Take “Elements” as an example. This DropBox based text editor is a universal app that works both on the iPhone and the iPad and while it’s useful on the iPhone it’s becomes productive on the iPad. The simple difference is that on the iPad I can use a near full sized horizontal virtual keyboard that has a more MacBook sized layout, but still uses iPhone-esque tricks to make things easier such as autocorrect and the double tapped spacebar shortcut (Which I hope is baked into Mac OS X “Lion”). The productivity result is faster typing than the iPhone but slower than a MacBook, resulting in an experience that feels like a reasonable comprise: “It’s not as fast as a MacBook but it’s great only carrying around a sheet of paper sized device that weighs a third of a normal laptop”
On The Galaxy Tab I could type with my thumbs while it was in vertical mode much like I do on my iPhone, but the horizontal keyboard had all the “tweener” problems Job’s was talking about: “too big to be a phone and too small to compete with the iPad”
To be fair, the vertical keyboard on the iPad is too big for thumb typing and not large enough for two handed typing. However, Apple choose to make the iPad large enough for a horizontal keyboard that was a closer approximation of a “real keyboard” rather than give people two larger iPhone-esque keyboards that would have neither the close keyed quick tap utility of a phone or the expansive two handed capacity and comfort of a laptop.
Other examples would be “Press Reader” which allows you to download digital versions of newspapers and view them on a screen the size of a sheet of paper, the excellent “World of Goo” which allows multiple fingers to be used in constructing goo-based towers and Apple’s own iWork Suite.
In short, the fundamental and unavoidable challenge of a 7″ touch screen is that is doesn’t matter how good the software is, it will inherently limit how human hands can approach and use it. (It doesn’t help that upcoming seven inch tablets will be running second rate software.)
Crow never tasted so good.