Tablets: how much smaller is smaller?

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POSTED: January 24, 2011

Steve Jobs recently made a surprise appearance on an Apple conference call, and while he was there he discussed something that I had been thinking about a lot recently: the screen size that a table needs to be truly useful.

A Visual Comparison

According to Wired UK:

In Apple’s earnings call Monday, CEO Steve Jobs derided some upcoming tablets for their lack of size.

Presumably referring to Samsung’s Android-powered Galaxy Tab and Research In Motion’s PlayBook — two 7-inch tablets hitting stores soon — Jobs said these devices were too small for a pleasant touchscreen experience.

“7-inch tablets are tweeners: too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with the iPad,” said Jobs, adding that competing manufacturers were struggling to meet the price point of the iPad, which starts at £429. Both Samsung and RIM have not announced pricing on their tablets.

“These are among the reasons that the current crop of 7-inch tablets are going to be DOA — dead on arrival,” Jobs said during the earnings call.

He pointed out that “Apple has done extensive testing, and really understands this stuff. There are limits to how close you can place elements for usability”, which is why, he claimed, 10? is the minimum size for a tablet if you want great tablet apps.

Finally he suggested that no tablet will fit into your pocket and therefore the trade-off that others are making (smaller size for slightly increased portability) is just not worth it.

But is this true?

I have included the illustration above because the visual comparison makes Steve Jobs’ point very, very clear. A seven inch screen is, in practice, a lot smaller than a ten inch screen.

The image is taken from an article on Engadget, in which Paul Miller explains why he thinks that the $600 price tag for the Samsung Galaxy is not necessarily a wrong move. He may be right, but I strongly suspect that those who purchase the smaller tablets will have a different and degraded experience from the one I am enjoying.

I have been using a wifi-only iPad for almost a month now, and it has already become almost indispensible in my daily life, at home and at work.

Unlike some commentators I find no difficulty carrying the iPad around with me, because it slips easily into a shoulder bag that I use anyway.

It is now the best pda I have ever owned, largely courtesy of Pocket Informant which has a delightfully pleasant interface; a brilliant ereader, courtesy of Stanza; a great comic book reader, courtesy of Comixology and Comic Reader; a neat games machine; and, since I discovered iA Writer, my authoring and editing tool of choice.

And most of its advantages over the iPod Touch that I was using previously would simply melt away if it had a 7″ screen.