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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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November 2010
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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.


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:


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