Mobile is just the beginning

7 inch tablets and other oddities

As rumours spread of a possible 7″ iPad and Google announces it’s Nexus 7, smaller tablets are already proving quite popular in Asia.

I first ran into widespread 7″ tablet use in Hong Kong back in 2010. Back then, it was the first generation Galaxy Tab. While not as common as the iPad, 7″ Tabs were easy to spot while wandering cafes and student hangouts of MongKok and Kowloon.

Two years later, a whole range of tablets (5″, 10″ and many sizes in between) are readily visible in central Bangkok. These include the 5.3″ Galaxy Note, the second generation 7″ Galaxy Tab (thinner and lighter), the 8.9″ Galaxy Tab, and my personal favourite—the perfectly sized (not too big…not too small) 7.7″ Galaxy tab.

people holding and using smaller tablets

Back in Europe however, it’s still pretty rare to see a tablet in the wild other than the iPad. There’s obviously no way to know why smaller tablets haven’t caught on here, but I suspect it’s due to a (somewhat random) confluence of events:

  • The iPad came out first and was heralded by Apple as “the perfect size”.
  • Mental models developed around the larger size and were exacerbated by flaky 7″ tablet releases by the likes of RIM and Motorola.
  • Both the original 7″ Tab and Amazon’s Kindle Fire didn’t quite sort out an optimal viewport width (vis-a-vis their respective number of device pixels and physical device size). The poor 7″ Tab ended up feeling like a Fisher Price inspired oversized phone, while the Fire suffered an opposite fate with reduced usability due to a bit-too-wide viewport.

Why smaller tablets took off in Asia may also be down to culture and historical accident. The Samsung brand is incredibly strong in Asia, so it’s not surprising the Tab family had immediate appeal. The use of smaller tablets in Asia is also paired with widespread use and availability of accessories. Some accessories are of course pure fashion, but others go a long way in enhancing and extending a device.

The most interesting I think are foldable cases (not unlike a classic iPad case but widely available in Asia for almost any make or model of device). Fitting one of these (inadvertently?) results in more comfortable and balanced use of many mid-sized devices. Compare the image below of a girl holding a 7″ tablet upright (in the way Amazon often portrays their much lighter 1st generation Kindle) with the far more comfortable use of a Galaxy Note when cradled in a foldable case.

man and woman holding a 7" tablet

This may not seem life-changing but makes a world of difference if your hand is smaller. A smaller tablet paired with a more ergonomic case is also quite conducive to stylus use (yet another accessory that caught on much faster in Asia and has remained popular due to the obvious benefits of handwriting recognition for certain character-sets).

The ability to easily accessorize, is similar in value to the ability to install an app. The device changes from a finite that thing you must adapt to, to a thing that you can mould to fit your lifestyle.

For some reason, 10″ tablets feel just that little bit less versatile. Like it or not, they require a certain planning and intent to carry. By comparison, smaller tablets weigh less, the display is often “big enough” (especially if you can do stuff like this), and the device fits into almost any bag, purse, or even pocket.

Smaller tablets are also infinitely more comfortable (and less dorky-looking) to use when taking photos!

taking photos on a tablet

I think we stand to see much higher use of smaller tablets/larger phones/connected purse-sized glowing rectangles of indeterminate viewport size in the future. :-)

4 Responses to “7 inch tablets and other oddities”

  1. felix

    Last time I was in Japan, I was amazed by the range of devices people were using. All kinds of smart phones and micro PCs that you just don’t see in the US. Over here it’s almost all iPhones and iPads, which leads US web developers to focus on iOS to the exclusion of everything else.

    • n00neimp0rtant

      The U.S. market has become excruciatingly biased. Here, anything Apple does is “right.” Henceforth, anything other companies do /differently/ from Apple is “wrong;” anything other companies do the /same/ as Apple is “stealing.”

      Perhaps it has something to do with how Japan was experiencing the smartphone craze significantly earlier that the U.S. amongst the general public (i.e. not just important businesspeople). By the time Apple came to market in Japan, they were “just another smartphone competitor.” But for many people in the U.S. who had never owned a smartphone before, the iPhone was their gateway drug to the smartphone experience, and everything that followed it had just enough flaws to make it look like junky, stolen garbage to the average consumer.

  2. Luke Pilkinton-Ching

    Thanks Stephanie for your thoughts on tablet sizes, particularly from an ‘outside of the USA’ point of view. Much appreciated!

    I’ve got a hunch that as digital books become the more standard way of reading 7″ tablets will become an increasingly popular size, not just for reading books but for tablets generally.

    I get the feeling that it’s only time before libraries here in New Zealand are going to loan tablets instead of books, loaded with the book title. I would think that the likely size would be 7″. I imagine that for many people this would be their first experience of using a tablet. So when they come to buy their own tablet they would opt for what is known.

  3. Georgie

    Hi Stephanie
    I arrived here via Jakob Nielsen – I’m both thinking of an iPad mini or Nexus 7 for Xmas and working out how my website’s going to work on them – I suspect I’m not the only mum out there that a smallish pad is going to work well for.
    Thank you for helping me get a better feel for how they work for people.


Leave a Reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS