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Why a 7-inch iPad Isn’t a Reality (Yet)

by on October 26th, 2010

Steve Jobs’ outbursts last week during their quarterly fiscal call last week is hardly news now, and everyone from Google’s Andy Rubin to RIM’s Jim Balsillie have weighed in on various comments from the call.

Despite that, the 7-inch iPad issue still lingers in my mind. While Jobs has been notorious for blatantly lying to the investor and consumer communities about product launches (remember how he denied working on a phone?), I don’t think he’s pulling our collective legs in this case. Here’s why.

Technical Issues

I wanted to get this one out of the way. There really isn’t a technical hurdle in creating a 7-inch iPad. Apple’s engineers have been notorious in shrinking circuit boards and reducing power consumption. A 7-inch iPad should be a walk in the park.

User Experience

Above all else, Apple cares about creating a streamlined and elegant user experience. Unfortunately, a 7-inch table will most likely make for a horrible user experience.

Even on a 10-inch form factor with my relatively small hands, I still find difficulty in using both hands to type with the on-screen keyboard. Imagine how much more difficult this will be on a smaller screen. Doing some quick math, if we keep the same dimensions as the 10-inch tablet, the total screen size and dimensions are reduced by roughly a third (36.3% to be precise). This means that both the keyboard and the keys will shrink as well. Unfortunately, the 7-inch form factor is just big enough for thumb typing a la iPod/iPhone to be just on the wrong side of uncomfortable.

Of course, all this assumes that future iterations of iOS continues to use traditional input methods (the keyboard) and not opt for gesture control or something equally simple. At this time, however, I just don’t see Apple wanting to buck this trend.

Pricing & Integration into Apple’s Product Line

In order to prevent price competition and cannibalization between Apple products, a 7-inch tablet needs to be priced in the $400 price range. This places it just between the high end $399 iPod Touch and the low end $550 iPad. This begs the question: does Apple really need something to bridge the gap between those two form factors just as the MacBook Air bridges the gap between the iPad and the MacBooks? I think no. There simply is not enough range in the price between the two to effectively slip in a product that isn’t overly differentiated. At least the jump from the iPad to the MacBook Air offers OS X, a keyboard and a different form factor.

Development Fragmentation (and more User Experience)

Now one of Jobs’ major rants about Android this past week was device fragmentation for the OS and the burden it places on developers to accommodate a wide range of devices that have different hardware specifications, specifically in screen size and resolution. As can be seen in the online firestorm last week, the validity of this claim is up for debate. However, as we can see from UI differences in the same app between the 3-inch iOS and the 10-inch iOS, developers want and are rewarded (by offering HD versions of the same app) to cater the user experience to the form factor. Unfortunately, I just can’t see developers customizing their apps further for a form factor that fits far too snugly between the two. I foresee a lot of developers avoiding development for the 7-inch platform and users having to deal with apps that are just a bit awkward to use because it’s designed for another device.

Whether or not there’s a need for a 7-inch tablet feels irrelevant here since Apple has been so good at dictating what we do and do not need. Based on what you’ve heard about the new Android & HP 7-inch tablets announced and releasing soon, do you think Apple will be forced to introduce an iPad of the same size? Or do you think Apple will release one because they think it does fit well in their product lineup? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

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Posted under: iPad Rumours