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.
11 people have left comments
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?
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.
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:
- E-reader. You said it yourself, 7″ is good for an e-reader. Kindle and iBooks are both on iOS.
- Games. Great size for games.
- Movies. Big enough to enjoy a movie on the go.
- 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.
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…
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.
Charles Ratliff said:
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.
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
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
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.
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.