Updated. Research In Motion (s RIMM), Samsung and Viewsonic are all hoping to cash in on the tablet computer market with seven-inch devices. We’re sure to see more similarly sized gadgets int he next several months as a crush of new models come to market.
Update: But where is Apple? That’s what I’ve been wondering ever since Steve Jobs went on a bit of a rant last month during an earnings call, saying a seven-inch tablet “is meaningless” without sandpaper “so that the user can sand down their fingers to about one-quarter of their present size.” I understand Jobs’ point — to a degree — but as I discuss in detail over at GigaOM Pro (subscription required), there are some compelling reasons for Apple to consider such a device.
Low production costs and Apple’s strategy of “incremental.” Apple reportedly developed a seven-inch iPad as it built the 9.7-inch version that’s currently on the market, so a smaller iPad would enable Apple to fill in the void between its iPod touch and the current full-sized tablet without spending a fortune in development.
Increasing competition, increasing variety. With dozens of tablets set to launch over the next couple of quarters, users will have a wide variety of sizes, features and operating systems to choose from. A seven-inch iPad could appeal to road warriors and casual users alike, and could crush competing devices before they have a chance to gain any momentum.
More portability. The current iPad is the perfect coffee-table tablet and is ideal for watching video, browsing the web or passing back and forth to play Scrabble. But its size and weight make it cumbersome on the go.
The apps. It’s true that some iPad apps take full advantage of the great real estate, and many enterprise/productivity apps are much easier to use on the bigger screen. But many of the top iPad apps are simply blown-up versions of their iPhone counterparts and would operate fine on a smaller screen
As I said a few weeks ago, there’s little evidence that anyone else can put much of a dent in iPad sales anytime soon. But there could be a substantial market for a tablet that sacrifices some features and functionality in exchange for more portability. Apple would be wise to reconsider the chance to tap it.
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