Tom Simonite

A View from Tom Simonite

Small Tablets Are Eclipsing Large Ones

Steve Jobs dismissed smaller tablets as “tweeners,” but they are proving more popular than full size tablets.

  • July 24, 2013

This morning in San Francisco, Google announced an upgraded version of its Nexus 7 tablet, increasing its resolution and power and reducing its weight and size. But the company’s larger tablet, the Nexus 10, was passed over.

Google may have chosen to update the Nexus 7 (which has a screen seven inches across, corner to corner) alone due to the growing pile of evidence that tablets the size of Apple’s original iPad design are, to the surprise of Apple, much less popular with consumers than their newer, smaller competitors.

Ever since its launch, Apple’s iPad has had a screen that measures 9.7 inches on the diagonal. Most of the imitators that appeared in its wake were a similar size. In late 2010, some companies were preparing to launch smaller tablets with seven-inch screens, but Apple cofounder and CEO Steve Jobs used an earnings call to call those efforts pointless:

“The 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps …The seven-inch tablets are tweeners, too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with an iPad.”

However, last year Apple unveiled a scaled-down iPad, with a 7.9-inch screen, after seeing competitors demonstrate that smaller tablets can be attractive. In fact, Apple’s iPad mini appears to have proven Steve Jobs wrong on two points, because the device is outselling both the full-size iPad and the company’s iPhone, according to Gartner figures quoted by the Inquirer last month. Gartner says that the iPad mini makes up 60 percent of all mobile devices sold by Apple.

Speaking to reporters after today’s presentation in San Francisco, Pichai brushed off a question from MIT Technology Review about when the Nexus 10 might be upgraded. “Today is about Nexus 7,” he said. “We will have more Android projects in the future.” Google doesn’t release sales figures, but it seems likely that the company has sold significantly more of its smaller tablets.

Part of the success of those more compact tablets comes from their lower prices, but the consensus among reviewers has been that they are also easier to use in many situations due to their reduced size and weight, and that most apps are just as good on a smaller screen.

The new Nexus 7 has a higher resolution screen, an extra camera, and more computing power than the iPad mini. On an earnings call yesterday, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook said that his company was set to release new products this fall. It wouldn’t be surprising for one of them to be a refreshed version of the type of tablet it seems people really like—those with a screen less than eight inches across.

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