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Why Apple Should Ignore Pleas to Consider a Seven Inch Tablet

Steve Jobs nailed the problem with the seven inch form factor when he called them "tweeners" -- pleas from the digerati to encourage a 7-inch iPad are idiotic.

So I know I haven’t updat­ed my blog in for­ev­er. Apolo­gies. I’m kin­da sor­ta bogged down with work, Briefly Awe­some and the love of my life Grant, but after read­ing this “arti­cle” (I put “arti­cle” in quo­ta­tion marks mere­ly because it’s real­ly an adver­tise­ment for a for-pay arti­cle that I admit­ted­ly will not actu­al­ly pay to read), I sort of felt the need to respond.

As always, these are my opin­ions and do not nec­es­sar­i­ly reflect those of my col­leagues or employ­ers.

So the arti­cle in ques­tion is from Giga Om — a site I like and respect. I tru­ly don’t mean to pick on the author, Col­in Gibbs (which of course just means that’s exact­ly what I’m going to do — sor­ry Col­in — it gen­uine­ly isn’t any­thing per­son­al) — but the entire premise behind the arti­cle, titled “Why Apple should Con­sid­er a Sev­en-inch iPad” is just so severe­ly flawed.

The size of the iPad has been a top­ic of dis­cus­sion recent­ly because it looks like all of the viable would-be iPad com­peti­tors (and by that, I mean prod­ucts by com­pa­nies that have actu­al­ly shipped some­thing before and aren’t embar­rass­ments like the Joo­Joo or vapor like the Notion Ink Adam, or as I like to call it JooJoo2) are tar­get­ing a form fac­tor of sev­en inch­es rather than the 9.6 inch­es of the iPad.

The Sam­sung Galaxy Tab, the Black­Ber­ry Play­Book and the thing from View­Son­ic — not to men­tion a num­ber of oth­er would-be tablets (includ­ing Barnes & Noble’s tablet/e-read­er hybrid).

Now this fac­tor in and of itself might not be wor­thy of reflect­ing upon in con­text of the iPad if Steve Jobs hadn’t called-out the sev­en inch form fac­tor dur­ing Apple’s last earn­ings call and had he not basi­cal­ly evis­cer­at­ed the choice of going below 10 inch­es (we’ll let it slide that Steve con­sis­tent­ly referred to 9.6 inch­es as 10-inch). Because Apple has a his­to­ry of denounc­ing a prod­uct or deny­ing the need for a prod­uct — only to show up with said prod­uct lat­er — it isn’t shock­ing that some would ques­tion Apple’s secret plans of a sev­en inch sib­ling to the iPad.

I think that these peo­ple are wrong. As Dan not­ed on a pre­vi­ous episode of Briefly Awe­some — this didn’t sound like Steve bull­shit — this sound­ed like he gen­uine­ly hates the idea of a sev­en inch tablet. He also had data to back up his choice.

But let’s just assume that Apple hadn’t decid­ed to forego the small­er form fac­tor, mov­ing to a small­er size for the iPad — espe­cial­ly at this ear­ly stage, would be utter­ly asi­nine. Here’s why:

  • One of the rea­sons that all the oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ers have to go to the sev­en inch form fac­tor isn’t one of choice; it’s because Apple has all the 9.6-inch pan­els (well, IPS pan­els any­way) locked up.
  • The so-called price sav­ings for going for a small­er screen doesn’t mat­ter when the iPad is still kick­ing its would-be com­peti­tors assess price wise. The Galaxy Tab is the same price as an iPad ($30 dif­fer­ence equals same price) unless you buy it with a con­tract. None of the tablets that have man­aged to ship are com­ing in any low­er than the iPad, except for the upcom­ing NOOK­col­or which is real­ly more an e-read­er with tablet-like fea­tures.
  • Steve Jobs nailed the prob­lem with the sev­en inch form fac­tor when he called them “tween­ers.” They are too big to be tru­ly portable and too small to be a good tablet.
  • The 9.6 inch size real­ly is per­fect for read­ing, for zoom­ing in on objects and for watch­ing video. Go small­er and you end up los­ing a lot of the pizazz, espe­cial­ly when it comes to mag­a­zine apps, games and watch­ing video.
  • Sev­en inch­es works well for an e-read­er, it real­ly doesn’t seem to work well for a tablet.

On that last point, I want to use my moth­er as an exam­ple. I got my mom an iPad 3G for her birth­day this August. She loves it. It has only tak­en me my whole life, but mom final­ly has a gad­get that she loves.

My mom is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of why the iPad is so rev­o­lu­tion­ary and why it has shak­en up the entire indus­try. By that I mean, she’s not an ear­ly adopter (unless it was as a by-prod­uct of hav­ing me as a daugh­ter). My mom’s only oth­er Apple prod­uct is an unused iPod nano that I got her for Mother’s Day like 3 years ago. She’s not who peo­ple thought the tar­get mar­ket would be. She rarely gets all that impressed or excit­ed about tech­nol­o­gy or gad­gets.

When my mom saw the iPad, she lit up like a child. Just play­ing with mine, she very clear­ly fell in love. I relent­ed and didn’t get her one for Mother’s Day but refused to lis­ten to her protests and got her one for her birth­day. She’s con­stant­ly talk­ing about how much she loves it. It’s more or less replaced her com­put­er for 80% of what she does.

It turns out, an awful lot of peo­ple like my mom got iPad fever. That num­ber is only going to increase now that peo­ple can get the iPad for Christ­mas.

A huge part of the iPad’s appeal IS its size. The crit­ics can claim it’s too big for one hand­ed use or that it can’t go in a jack­et pock­et. First, that’s so sex­ist. I fuck­ing hate any argu­ment about a gad­get that ends up being all about how men can car­ry things. The iPhone 4, one of the slimmest smart­phones on the mar­ket, can fit in my back pock­et but real­ly doesn’t work in 95% of my pants. The idea that I could some­how even con­sid­er pock­et­ing a DROID X is just laugh­able.

Like­wise, it’s sure cool that guys who where jack­ets with inside pock­ets can car­ry a 7 inch tablet. Guess what — most women can’t. And even if I could — I wouldn’t because there is noth­ing lamer than a Scott Vest. Noth­ing.

So let’s just for­get this whole “pock­etable” con­cept now — you’re going to need to car­ry it in a case, pop it in a purse (and inci­den­tal­ly, my iPad does fit in my mid-size hand­bag just fine) or car­ry it in some sort of sleeve — sev­en or 10 inch­es.

Next, let’s talk about how your fin­gers work on a device. I have small fin­gers — so does my mom for that mat­ter. I’d feel cramped on a sev­en inch tablet. I know my mom would.

Beyond that though, the iPad is also a device that you can use, like a notepad, to show off to oth­er peo­ple. The 10 inch form fac­tor works per­fect­ly for that for meet­ings, for show­ing an out­line, etc. When you go small­er, you lose a lot of that. You turn a mul­ti-user object into some­thing sin­gle user. That inher­ent­ly impacts usabil­i­ty, as well as util­i­ty.

Again, I’ll agree that for read­ing text — sev­en inch­es is a good size. I think the Kin­dle is an excel­lent size device and I think it is very good for what it does. But even Kin­dle had to go big­ger for the DX to encour­age read­ing news­pa­per or mag­a­zine con­tent.

Read­ing a mag­a­zine on the iPad just feels right. Try­ing to cram that stuff small­er just means you’d have to pinch zoom on columns and images and lose the flow of what makes the A4 style of the iPad so great.

For com­pos­ing con­tent too — it’s weird, I can be very effec­tive typ­ing on my iPhone 4. How­ev­er, I think I’d be less effec­tive on a sev­en inch device. That’s because you either need to have some­thing that is small enough to be thum­bable — like a Black­Ber­ry or iPhone or what­ev­er — or you need to be able to have near full-size keys. This is that tween­er aspect in play. You can’t go halfway, go big or go small — your fin­gers don’t like the mid­dle ground.

So this is all the log­i­cal stuff of why from a con­sumer per­spec­tive, the device doesn’t make sense at 7 inch­es. How­ev­er, what real­ly made me go “what the fuck are you smok­ing” was the argu­ment that because of increas­ing com­pe­ti­tion, Apple needs to offer a wider range of prod­uct and more “vari­ety.”

Dude. Just. Dude. I mean, seri­ous­ly? Seri­ous­ly?

First — anoth­er screen size would mean yet anoth­er tar­get for app devel­op­ers — some­thing that I doubt many would real­ly appre­ci­ate. Jug­gling iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and iPad is one thing — add a sec­ond iPad size and yeah, that’s must ask­ing for shit­ty apps to get made.

Sec­ond, this actu­al­ly assumes that peo­ple are going to view 7 inch­es as an advan­tage over 10 when it comes to pick­ing a device. As of now, you don’t get a cheap­er price for a small­er screen — so what exact­ly is the point of a trade off? I hard­ly see a “road war­rior” beg­ging and plead­ing for a sev­en inch iPad because that 10 inch mod­el is just too big. Again, you can’t stick the sev­en inch in your pock­et so what’s the point?

This also ignores the very real busi­ness advan­tage Apple has over its com­peti­tors: Apple has the big­ger screen. Why in the hell would they do a small­er screen unit just so they can have one less dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing fea­ture? It bog­gles the mind.

Look — maybe some­day there will be an actu­al use case for a non-e-read­er sev­en inch touch device. That day is not today.

 

 

 

 

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11 people have left comments

Joshua Karthik - Gravatar

Joshua Karthik said:

Next, let’s talk about how your fin­gers work on a device. I have small fin­gers — so does my mom for that mat­ter. I’d feel cramped on a sev­en inch tablet. I know my mom would.”

I’m con­fused. Did you mean that you have large fin­gers?

How are you denounc­ing the 7″ form fac­tor when you haven’t tru­ly expe­ri­enced it yet?

Posted on: November 8, 2010 at 2:08 amQuote this Comment
Christi­na War­ren - Gravatar

Christi­na War­ren said:

@Josh — no, I mean I have small fin­gers and 7 inch­es would feel cramped on a tablet. Which is to say, I imag­ine it would be even worse for peo­ple NOT like my moth­er and I. And I don’t have exten­sive expe­ri­ence with the 7 inch tablets — but I’ve used them and that was enough for me to go, yeah, next.

Like I said, I think it’s a great form fac­tor for a pure e-read­er. I don’t think it works as a tablet. Maybe if all you ever used was a 7 inch tablet, it would feel more expan­sive, but after using the iPad — it’s too small. As I not­ed, it’s the whole thum­bable ver­sus full-size thing. We can make do with much small­er devices — phone screens, as an exam­ple, because we can adjust our expec­ta­tions and the but­tons and inter­ac­tions can be “thum­bable” — but when you go beyond a cer­tain size, those changes in form fac­tor real­ly start to impact usabil­i­ty.

Look at CULV and portable com­put­ers as an exam­ple. There are peo­ple — includ­ing me — who could type out sev­er­al hun­dred word mis­sives with­out miss­ing a beat on say, a Black­Ber­ry, or even one of those old-school HP Jor­na­da or Sony Vaio mini com­put­ers (the clamshells that had the screens that were maybe 5 inch­es long — they usu­al­ly ran Win­dows CE and were sold in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s), but quite lit­er­al­ly get pains in their fin­gers if they have to use a net­book pre the 10-inch form fac­tor. Even then, if the place­ment of the shift key is wrong, I can seri­ous­ly have a hard time work­ing.

Net­books I think are actu­al­ly a good exam­ple of why sev­en inch­es isn’t ide­al for view­ing information/interacting with con­tent. The very first net­books were sev­en inch­es or so in size. that quick­ly start­ed to change but it real­ly wasn’t until the 10.1″ screen size that the devices real­ly start­ed to take off. Of course, at this point, you can argue that the net­book start­ed to become anoth­er lap­top sans opti­cal dri­ve — but that’s anoth­er dis­cus­sion. The point is, they had to make the screens big­ger — not just because the screen size was too small — but because the key­boards were too small. Big­ger screens allow for a big­ger chas­sis for the keys.

When dis­played in land­scape mode, the iPad key­board is near­ly full size. I’m not going to bull­shit and say that it’s nec­es­sar­i­ly the most ide­al typ­ing expe­ri­ence — that’s where hav­ing an exter­nal key­board would be help­ful — but it cer­tain­ly makes it a good expe­ri­ence for com­pos­ing email. But even switch the iPad to por­trait and you’ll see how much worse it is to type on. Again, it’s the dif­fer­ence between thum­bable and not. I find that I’m much more able to type out long entries on my iPhone than I am on the iPad if the iPad is in por­trait. For­tu­nate­ly, you can always switch ori­en­ta­tions. On a sev­en inch tablet, you’re talk­ing about the max­i­mum sur­face area (width wise) for typ­ing would be equiv­a­lent to the min­i­mum on the iPad.

Posted on: November 8, 2010 at 6:41 amQuote this Comment
Jeff Schad­er - Gravatar

Jeff Schad­er said:

If you would feel cramped on a 7″ tablet then how do you deal with the iPhone’s small­er screen? Do you do no typ­ing at all? No tex­ting? No emails?

I remem­ber the com­ment Steve Jobs made about how the oth­er guys should include sand­pa­per with their 7″ tablets and think­ing — well what does that say about the iPhone which clear­ly has a small­er area to con­tend with?

No, I dis­agree. I think 7″ is a good size. As an iOS devel­op­er I hope they don’t, unless they keep the same dis­play res­o­lu­tion as the 10″, so we won’t have to go back and change our apps when they’re done.

But look at what a 7″ can han­dle:

  1. E-read­er. You said it your­self, 7″ is good for an e-read­er. Kin­dle and iBooks are both on iOS.
  2. Games. Great size for games.
  3. Movies. Big enough to enjoy a movie on the go.
  4. Apps. Again a great size for all kinds of apps.

7″ is a great size for stu­dents and their back­packs. Easy to throw into a car­ry-on or lug­gage for a trip. Eas­i­ly slip it into a brief­case or a larg­er purse. Easy to car­ry around the house. So I don’t think any of your argu­ments are valid. Let’s talk about weight and how a 7″ would be lighter to car­ry around. Just my opin­ion.

Jeff

Posted on: January 8, 2011 at 8:21 pmQuote this Comment
Joh - Gravatar

Joh said:

I just want to say that it Ebert was real­ly your hero, you might take a page from his book. You are a decent writer, but here’s a bit of con­struc­tive crit­i­cism — the ‘F’ bomb… real­ly? When I read this post­ing, it was jar­ring to come across. It doesn’t shock, it just reduces a decent opin­ion to a child­ish entry.

Don’t be afraid to let go of the need to shock with vul­gar­i­ty — you’re a bet­ter writer than this; it’s out of place and it doesn’t fit the over­all voice of your writ­ing.

Hop­ing for brighter days in your craft…

Posted on: January 10, 2011 at 4:44 pmQuote this Comment
Christi­na - Gravatar

Christi­na said:

Jah, I actu­al­ly real­ly appre­ci­ate that com­ment — gen­uine­ly. And I will take that feed­back to heart. You’re right: the vul­gar­i­ty doesn’t always need to exist. I think it can be used effec­tive­ly but I don’t dis­agree that in this case, it’t not nec­es­sar­i­ly effec­tive.

Thank you for tak­ing the time to com­ment, seri­ous­ly.

Posted on: January 10, 2011 at 5:03 pmQuote this Comment
Charles Ratliff - Gravatar

Charles Ratliff said:

@Jeff

In regards to your first ques­tion:

For com­pos­ing con­tent too — it’s weird, I can be very effec­tive typ­ing on my iPhone 4. How­ev­er, I think I’d be less effec­tive on a sev­en inch device. That’s because you either need to have some­thing that is small enough to be thum­bable — like a Black­Ber­ry or iPhone or what­ev­er — or you need to be able to have near full-size keys. This is that tween­er aspect in play. You can’t go halfway, go big or go small — your fin­gers don’t like the mid­dle ground.”

She also brings up points on pret­ty much every­thing else you men­tion.

Posted on: February 2, 2011 at 5:51 amQuote this Comment
Rob Shoe­smith - Gravatar

Rob Shoe­smith said:

I work in iOS app mar­ket­ing and find the IPad bril­liant. I do a lot of read­ing enjoy read­ing books from IBooks on the IPad. Obvi­ous­ly I love my lap­top but I can’t use it in the bath. I use a spe­cial case for it and can chill at the end of the day catch­ing up on tech news on mash­able 🙂

Posted on: February 7, 2011 at 4:24 pmQuote this Comment
Rob - Gravatar

Rob said:

Sor­ry for the poor gram­mar. Have been work­ing for the last 15 hours. Think I need to go chill in the bath with my iPad 🙂

Posted on: February 7, 2011 at 4:26 pmQuote this Comment
zour­buth - Gravatar

zour­buth said:

I found that iPad do much things…

Posted on: March 1, 2011 at 2:04 amQuote this Comment
des­best - Gravatar

des­best said:

Why would I need a tablet any­way? If I want so surf the inter­net, I can do that on my phone. If I want to do some­thing pro­duc­tive, I can do that on my lap­top. The tablet indus­try is like the jew­el­ery or drugs indus­try. It’s the biggest waste of mon­ey, and peo­ple only buy it because it looks glam­orous.

Posted on: March 21, 2011 at 10:19 pmQuote this Comment
David - Gravatar

David said:

well said. a coworked just bought a 7″ Sam­sung Galaxy Tab and the form fac­tor seems high­ly imprac­ti­cal. i thought it would just “seem” imprac­ti­cal because i have the iPhone, and the extra few inch­es of real estate wouldn’t buy me much, and the iPad would pro­vide the larg­er screen for read­ing. now that i’ve seen the Galaxy, not only are the pre­vi­ous two state­ments proven to be true for me, but also just hold­ing the thing is awk­ward. it’s kind of big for one hand­ing unless you have giant hands.

Posted on: March 24, 2011 at 2:46 pmQuote this Comment