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.