Don’t hold your breath for a 7-inch iPad

Ben Patterson
Technology News Blog

Rumors about a 7-inch version of the iPad have been floating around for months now, but based on Steve Jobs' epic rant during Apple's quarterly earnings call Monday, it sounds like we won't be seeing an iPad Jr. anytime soon.

Jobs, who rarely takes part in the typically bone-dry conference call for investors following Apple quarterly earnings report, alternated from crowing about robust iPhone and iMac sales ("I just couldn't help dropping by for our first $20 billion quarter") and taking shots at smartphone competitors RIM ("I don't see them catching up with us in the foreseeable future") and of course, Google ("we think Android is very, very fragmented and becoming more fragmented by the day"). You can check out a transcript of the entire call from Seeking Alpha.

But Jobs also tipped his hand a bit as he tore into the slew of Android-based iPad competitors that are due to hit stores in the next several months, taking special pains to point out that he believes that the iPad's 10-inch touchscreen is "the minimum required to create great tablet apps" while 7-inch tablets, like the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Tab, will be "DOA, dead on arrival."

Pointing out that a 7-inch screen is only 45 percent as large as the iPad's 9.7-inch display, Jobs argued that a smaller display "isn't sufficient to create great apps" because "users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch" elements on the screen, according to the Seeking Alpha transcript.

And while you could always boost the resolution of a smaller tablet screen, such a measure would be "meaningless, unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one quarter of the present size."

Of course, that's all Steve Jobs' opinion. While I'm a big fan of the 10-inch-ish iPad, I've also played around with the 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, and I'm not at all convinced that the tablet is "dead on arrival" solely based on its screen size.

I poked around the Tab's various upscaled Android apps, tapped out a few test messages on its virtual QWERTY keypad, and even watched a few minutes of the new "Star Trek" movie, and overall, I was pretty impressed by how easy the Tab was to use. I still have no idea which form factor—the 7-inch display or the larger 10-inch screen—I prefer. Obviously it's no slam-dunk.

On the other hand, I do agree with Jobs' warning that even Google says that the current version of Android—2.2 "Froyo"—isn't designed for tablets. It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that Google will have a new, tablet-ready version of Android in the coming months or even weeks, and new Android tablets like the Galaxy Tab will probably get at least the next major Android software update.

But as we've seen with even the most high-profile Android phones, it often takes weeks or even months for a new Android version to be tweaked for a given handset, and I'm sure the same pattern will repeat itself for any new tablets that ship with Android version 2.2.

All that aside, here's the main point: Based on Steve Jobs' performance Monday, I don't think we'll be seeing a 7-inch iPad in the near future. It could still happen eventually, of course—it's not like Apple's never changed course before—but I'd bet my bottom dollar it won't happen in 2011.

What do you think? Is a 7-inch screen too small for a tablet?

— Ben Patterson is a technology writer for Yahoo! News.

Follow me on Twitter!