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.
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.
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!
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.