By now you know the story. When Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive were designing the first Apple iPad tablet, they looked at almost two dozen size options. Quickly Jobs narrowed it down to the now very familiar 4:3 aspect ratio, 9.7-inch screen. The rest is, as they say, history. Jobs never cottoned to a 7-inch screen and I tended to agree with him. The iPad defined tablet screen size for me. Even now, with another 17 million iPads sold in the third quarter of this year, it’s hard to argue with Job’s soothsayer-like logic.
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Yet I must. It’s time for the iPad Mini.
I know, many believe that Apple is well on its way to delivering a 7-inch iPad. There are signs and whispers from all corners, but I have never believed it. As I saw it, the Apple screen size philosophy was thus: if you wanted a smaller touch screen than an iPad, buy an iPhone.
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Since Apple introduced the iPad in 2010, we’ve seen an ever-growing array of tablet screen sizes from other manufacturers, but nothing really caught on. Even the size of the bloated, yet somewhat-popular 5-inch Samsung Galaxy Note did not convince me that there was a market for mid-sized tablets. Five inches is too big for a phone, yet not really large enough to gain more screen value than you’d find in a 4.3-inch display or even the iPhone’s 3.5-inch screen.
When the 7-inch Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook tablets arrived, I lauded them as better than most Android tablets, but still preferred my iPad’s larger screen and iOS interface. Though exact sales numbers for the Kindle Fire (and Nook) are almost impossible to come by, IDC said the 7-inch Fire, which launched late last year sold almost 5 million units and gobbled up 14% tablet marketshare. Impressive, though Apple sold more than three times that many iPads in its most recent quarter.
The Fire's been acknowledged as the most successful Android tablet yet. At the time, I didn’t think its success had anything to do with size. Now I'm not so sure.
It was the arrival of Google’s Nexus 7 tablet that changed my mind. I've spent a few weeks with it and It’s easily the best Android tablet on the market. Not only is the Asus hardware top-notch, but it has something all other Android tablets lack: Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) The popular Fire is still running Android 2.3 (same as the Nook). Jelly Bean has, at least for me, transformed the Android tablet experience. It instantly makes the Nexus 7 better than any Android tablet I’ve ever used and has started to convince me that at 7-inch tablet is not an odd duck, but a peacock among tablet hardware.
I’m clearly not alone. Google’s already sold out of initial Nexus 7 16 GB inventory. As much as I liked the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, I never imagined the kind of pent up demand I’m seeing for 7-inch devices.
Like the Kindle Fire and Nook device, the Nexus 7 is primarily a consumption device. It’s effective for e-mail, movies and especially books. The high resolution screen makes most magazines look lovely, but you’ll end up reading the stories in text form. Web browsing with the new browser interface is about as good as it is on every other 7-inch device, which is to say just okay. In landscape mode, I’m often painfully aware of how much screen real estate is eaten up by tabs and the URL. Games and movies look excellent on the high-resolution screen and the whole interface has a fluidity and intuitive nature lacking in most other tablets. I love, for example, that it places often used apps on my home screen.
By the way, it's not a small thing that 7-inch tablets are about consuming content. Take a look around. The world is filled with consumers, not creators.
Google Play is in some ways almost as good as Apple’s App Store. It certainly looks better than the old Android Marketplace. Still, Google has done little to improve the app organization and help me find apps specifically designed for tablets (Can someone tell me what’s so hard about fixing this?).
Even so, I’m now somewhat smitten with the Nexus 7 and realize that, if the iPad never existed and this was the first truly consumer tablet, I might have fallen in love with it.
And that’s the point: For millions of consumers the Nexus 7 is (like the Kindle Fire before it) their first tablet. They don’t know from the iPad and the Apple ecosystem. Obviously, they’ve seen the iPad (there are nearly 100 million of them now in consumers hands), and have an awareness of the platform, but their hands are now holding these light, powerful, do-everything Android devices that are as effective as the iPad and, guess what, more affordable, too ($199 is the magic price -- Steve Jobs once said so himself).
Are they better than the iPad? Not by my measure (I think I'll always gravitate to the larger screen and Apple iOS ecosystem), but the writing is on the wall. The iPad Mini can no longer be a speculative product. To compete, Apple simply must deliver a $199, 7-inch iPad and it needs to do it before the end of this year.
What about you? Tell me in the comments below.
Bonus: Up Close with the Google Nexus 7
Google Nexus 7
The Nexus 7 is essentially Google's answer the the Amazon Kindle Fire -- a 7-inch tablet priced at $199 that's based around media consumption. In almost every respect, the Nexus destroys the Fire.
This story originally published on Mashable here.
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