Don’t know if Apple will make a 7-inch tablet, but they should

I know the Great Man Himself once said that the iPad was the perfect size and that 7-inch tablets were “tweeners” (too big to be a phone, too small to be a tablet) and thus would be “DOA.”

But I’ve been using the Google Nexus 7 for a few days and it has already become my go-to device. It’s small enough to toss in a bag, and small enough that you can sit with it in a cafe and not have this huge thing out on the table in front of you, small enough to keep on the table by your bed and just grab to take a quick look at email — and yet big enough that the screen and keyboard are comfortable.

And the Nexus 7 costs only $200, versus the new iPad, which starts at $500 and goes up over $829. What’s not to love?

Now Bloomberg and others are reporting that Apple is indeed defying the Great Man’s words and working on a smaller tablet. It’s a great idea, and a smaller iPad, priced to move, will be a huge hit.

One thought: Apple as it exists today is so powerful and so successful in the mobile (post-PC) space that that the only tablets that can even remotely be considered to be credible competitors to the iPad are the Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7, and both those devices are priced so low that their makers at best break even and possibly lose money on each device.

In other words: Even with tablet products that are sold at or below the cost of making them, these guys still can’t knock off the iPad.

Another thought: It seems to me that the form factor that needs to die is the one we today call the smartphone. Why not just put phone capability into a 7-inch tablet like my Galaxy Nexus and let that be my phone, with some kind of Bluetooth earbud or wired headphone to go with it? And/or build telephony functionality into your Google Glasses?

The whole idea of having this phone-sized thing that you hold up to your ear, this slab of plastic and glass with some kind of keypad (physical or virtual) on it — isn’t this just another example of another way in which we’ve created digital tools that simply mimic the tools we used in the analog world?

Mobile phones have evolved lot since this one. Basically over the course of 40 years they’ve become smaller and smaller, until now, in reality, the “phone” part of a smartphone is really just an app on a tiny mobile computer.

The phone itself has disappeared, but we cling to the name, and the form factor, because we like to stick with what seems familiar. As John Gruber points out, smartphones aren’t really phones at all. They’re portable computers. Apple called the iPhone the iPhone in part because that’s what people thought they wanted, but the name itself was a bit of misdirection, Gruber says.

But what is the point of a portable computer with a 3.5-inch (or 4.3-inch, or 4.7-inch) screen? That device is the one that starts looking like a “tweener” — caught between embedded/wearable devices, and tablets.

I can envision a time, maybe not so far from now, when I won’t carry a “phone” at all. If my Nexus 7 could make phone calls, I’d be there today.

19 Responses to “Don’t know if Apple will make a 7-inch tablet, but they should”

  1. Steve

    There’s a huge difference between carrying something and carrying nothing in your hands. A compact 7″ tablet requires carrying while a smartphone tucks away in a pocket.

    Your point is valid for people who always have a large pocket book, briefcase, jacket with large pockets, etc.. For people who like occasionally being empty-handed the small tablet is a burden.

  2. Darwin

    Wow, Dan actually made some interesting non-snarky points? Without saying Android is perfect and Apple is evil?

  3. David

    Actually Dan, the iPad starts at $399. 2x as much but still $100 lower than your claim. And if you compare memory only it’s only $150 more.

  4. Seth Weintraub

    I agree with what you say and it is indeed why the Galaxy note has been such a success. I carry my Nex7 with me everywhere (fits in my back pocket) and its screen lets me do a lot of things that even the biggest mobile devices can’t do.

    I’m a light cell phone user but I still use a headphone when I make calls – it would be nice to see either Apple and/or Google do some innovation there.

  5. Mr. Pockets

    Okay Dan, but try carrying your fat Nexus 7 around in your pocket. Oh right, you can’t. The point is you have it backwards: today’s phone form factor isn’t a random evolution of cell phones– the reality is that cell phones are actually a focused evolution of society. Smart”phones” are sized the way they are because they are made to fit in your pocket. Heck, Apple even sold iPods the same way (remember Steve’s famous nano keynote?), before they were in the phone business. 7″ tablets will remain too big to carry around and too small to do anything important on. Of course they will have users– every technology does– I still know people who swear by their crusty old BlackBerry– but 7″ is really not a size sufficient for the mainstream demographic. Steve understood that. It’s one of the few things I agree with him on.

  6. Sven

    Although a 7″ tablet won’t fit in your average hipster’s skinny jeans pocket, it will fit quite happily in a pair of pants with a little more wiggle room, and without question into a jacket pocket. Many smartphone users today barely use their phone as a phone at all, just for emergencies and people who don’t know their email address. I think this is a really good point. f you don’t like the idea of making calls with a voice-enabled tablet, how about the tablet for all data related stuff and carrying a tiny dumb phone for voice calls with mega battery life, just like back in the day?

  7. Giles

    I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 with 3G, when paired with a Bluetooth headset it makes a perfectly decent phone replacement in the way you describe. I still use the smartphone for day-to-day use, though — it just fits in my jeans pockets better. In the winter when I’m wearing a coat most of the time I can imagine that might change.

  8. Sean

    “This size (7 inches) is useless unless you include sandpaper so users can sand their fingers down to a quarter of their size.”

    - Steve Jobs, Apple earnings phone call, Oct 18th 2010.

  9. Khürt Williams

    A 7“ phone might be some misogynistics geeks idea of the ideal size but my female friends beg to differ. Also, who the fracks wants to walk around with a bluetooth head set attached to ear waiting for calls to come in?

  10. Nick

    One device to rule them all! I don’t see a 7″ tablet ever replacing my phone, but it may replace my 10″ iPad one day. Browsing, reading and media playback are the things I do most with my iPad – all things I would happily do on a lighter 7″ device.

  11. chris

    no way. I own a Kindle Fire and an iPad. I hate the Kindle’s form factor. It is impossible to do something useful with it. It is too big (and heavy) to hold it comfortably in one hand and too small to lean it against anything.

    I do not primarily want to carry it around in my pocket. I want to use it. The carrying takes probably 10 % of my time. Most of my time I am at work or at home. In between I have a backbag which also contains a bottle of water and some other stuff. I cannot carry everything I need in my pockets. That’s why bags exist.

  12. al

    Steve Jobs was more than capable of blowing smoke- even at 7 inches vs the almost 8 that all the rumors promise, the DPI is close to the same as on the original iPhone. And we know that Steve kinda liked that.

  13. Maria

    Apple is huge when it comes to smartphones and tablets, no doubt they will go for every design and size to be the top market share holder.

  14. Tom

    Hey Dan,

    You got it right, and it’s interesting that your commenters here miss it, because all they can think of is where guys carry their devices: shirt pockets and pants pockets.

    One of the unnoticed reasons for the popularity of 7″ tablets, and in particular why the RIM 7-incher took off, has been women.

    That’s right, the female market. 7 inch tablets fit in purses quite nicely, thank you very much . . . and that means you don’t have to carry around a second item besides your purse (and you don’t have to look like a dweeb with your 10-incher in a cloth slider or faux notepad folio, or whatever)

    Anyhoo- I can’t do real market research, but my nose for who’s buying what in my neck of the woods tells me that the proportion of people buying 7-inchers of all stripes is disproportionately skewed in favor of the fairer sex.

    Same thing for netbooks. I know 1 guy who owns a netbook, I know 5 women who do. Size matters, I guess.

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