Steve Jobs Was Wrong: Why the 7-Inch Tablet Is King

What a difference three years makes.

  • Share
  • Read Later
FindTheBest

Back in 2010, Steve Jobs scoffed at the “current crop of seven-inch tablets,” calling them “dead on arrival.”

“There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touchscreen before users can reliably tap, flick, or pinch them,” he said on an October earnings call. “This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps.”

What a difference three years makes. The 7.85-inch iPad Mini has been a runaway success, and the new iPad Mini with Retina Display seems poised to become the company’s best-selling tablet. (Although Apple still needs to overcome early supply constraints.) Surely even Jobs would now admit that the 7.85-inch Mini deserves its place in Apple’s tablet lineup.

Apple’s current iPad lineup

That said, Jobs’ poor instincts might actually go a level deeper. Not only have 7-inch tablets proven their worth—they might just be the superior tablet size, period. First, there are the sales numbers, where the iPad Mini has reportedly cannibalized its bigger brother faster than Apple expected. Next, there’s feedback from users. Here’s a scatter plot charting FindTheBest’s average user rating against screen size for 64 of the most popular tablets.

The 7-inch tablets win handily. It’s somewhat remarkable to see a trend like this, particularly when the data on smartphone screen size is much more noisy.

The one clear conclusion here: smartphones over 5 inches are too big. (We’re looking at you, Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3.) Otherwise there are plenty of top-rated options—it just depends on your personal needs and preferences.

So it really does seem that this phenomenon is unique to tablets. Incidentally, you won’t see the same trend when looking at tablet reviews from experts, but that’s likely for good reason. More screen real estate might impress for the first week or so, as professionals scramble to submit reviews, but what about over time? Sure, experts will run benchmarks, analyze hardware design, test out features, and compare display sharpness, but what about two years later, after months of reading on a busy subway, or two years of cross-country business trips? In the end, light-weight, portable options tend to win out.

iPads provide one of the more obvious examples, with clear user rating differences between Mini and full-sized options.

Apple may not have a 7.0-inch offering, but the 7.85-inch Minis have the obvious edge over their 9.7-inch counterparts.

What about Samsung? The trend isn’t nearly as clear, with the 10-inch Galaxy Tab and Note among the users’ favorite tablets.

Still, there’s a small surprise here: users tend to like the 7-inch Galaxy Tabs, despite only average reviews from experts. Score another point for small-screened devices.

Sony’s tablets fit the theory as well. Users score the 9.4-inch Xperia Tablet S 0.7 points higher than the flagship 10.1-inch Xperia Tablet Z.

If there’s any major tablet-maker that seems to break the pattern entirely, it’s Amazon. Users review Kindle Fires pretty consistently, regardless of screen size.

How does Amazon avoid the large-screen curse? Perhaps the 8.9-inch Kindle Fire is just light enough (1.25 lbs), or maybe there’s a breaking point right around 9 inches. We’ll see what happens with Apple’s iPad Air (9.7 inches, only 1 pound) once users have had enough time to really use it. We’re keeping a close eye on our hypothesis as tablets continue to get lighter.

- – - – -

Given that the man revolutionized the music, phone, and PC industry with his uncanny ability to see into the future, I’ll excuse Jobs for his oversight on tablet size. After getting so many things right, it was only a matter of time before he got something wrong. With apologies to Mr. Jobs, it seems we have a verdict: smaller really is better.

Related:

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

34 comments
WayneHosh
WayneHosh

It is almost unbelievable that somebody goes to the trouble of writing an article like this, without bothering to enlighten themselves in the slightest.


I believe in the Steve Jobs 7 inch tablets myth = tech idiot.  


Jobs said the "CURRENT" crop of 7 inch tablets was DOA - which they were.  Now, he did follow that up, by citing Apple studies indicated the ipad size was optimum, but at no time did he say there was no potential for smaller tablets, or that Apple would never do one, and as we now KNOW - thanks to documents released in COURT, Apple was already investigating smaller ipad models with Jobs enthusiastic blessing. 



GarySilby
GarySilby

The government is now restricting access to sites that report what is going wrong. I am now restricted from accessing theslouthjournal.com.  Wake up America. The government is coming after us. See if you can access the site.

ChikuMisra
ChikuMisra

It's an individual choice. I had a Ipad mini retina for a month. It was great for everything except extended web browsing, which required a lot of panning and zooming. Tired of it after a while. Exchanged it at the apple store for an air, which has been far better for reading on websites.

os2baba
os2baba

I have a Nexus 10 as well as a Nexus 7. I'm typing this on a Nexus 7 just because it happens to be around. I use both for different reasons. The larger display is very useful while reading full Web sites. the N7 is convenient for all the very valid reasons you mentioned. I rarely use my tablets outside the house. But if I did, I'd definitely be carrying the N7 the N10. If I had to buy just one tablet, it would be the Nexus 10. But that's simply because of my use cases. Some one else may choose differently. 


And don't underestimate the price. To know whether a consumer would have preferred a 7 or a 10 inch tablet, both really had to be priced the same. Which of course is not possible. Or do a survey where you offer a tablet of their choice for free. Although the latter will probably end up in most folks picking the 10 inch since people would consider that a better deal. 


I also use my PC for all the ridiculously ill-suited activities like Web Development and video editing that Harvey Lupin cites. I have a 27" monitor hooked up to a very powerful PC with the excellent IBM Model M keyboard. 


As far as reading books is concerned, can't beat the e-ink Nook. 

TuanLe
TuanLe

On the case of kindle fire hd, as an user i'd like to say it's not just about the scrensize, because there is a big difference in the processors used between 2 size of the kindle fire hd 2012. Even if i like the form and price of the 7 inches better, i cant rate it higher than the 9 inches because the 7 is too slow and laggy and feel like a handicapped experience, nothing like the nexus 7 or its own 9 inches brother. So things could be different this year when the hdx 7 and hdx 9 actually have the same processor and snappy one at that

SactoMan81
SactoMan81

As an owner of an iPad Air, I prefer it way over the 2G iPad mini, for one reason: it's way easier on the eyes when it comes to web browsing. On the iPad mini, web browsing even in landscape orientation is not a fun experience, because you end up using the "pinch to zoom" Multitouch gesture just a bit too much just to properly read elements on a web page.

jnffarrell
jnffarrell

KindleFire avoids the 10 inch curse from its owners because they are couch potatoes. Ten inch tablets are for couch potatoes. Try holding an iPad in one hand while descending an escalator, crossing a street, or field checking a electrical distribution box. iPads are fine for people who don't work by walking around; so are PCs and ChromeBooks.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

What the world needs is a 10" tablet that folds in half for stowage. 

IntangibleGuy
IntangibleGuy

A first and feeble attempt to belittle a deity ?  ha ha ha ...

I wager that over the long run Jobs would have witnessed the 2nd decline of his company. Why ?

Because a company so much focused on consumers is totally dependent on consumers whims and their fickle behavior.

Ask Nokia, BB and HTC what that does mean.

allan.wichelman
allan.wichelman

Too soon to tell really, but in my opinion Jobs remains correct, that it will be seen that the iPad Air is more desirable for its 50% larger display, now that the size and weight of the larger form factor have been significantly reduced.

GaryDauphin
GaryDauphin

Steve was notorious for publicly bashing a product category until he had a similar product on the market.  I believe this was deliberate; to stall the market for competing devices until he was ready with his.

FreddieP
FreddieP

Before coming to any conclusion about smaller being "better," you need to check for statistical significance. Is the slope of the trend line statistically different from zero? (Any modern statistical package will report this statistic.) Or if you are comparing tablets from two different size families, you need to check if the difference in the means is statistically significant. (Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Student's_t-test) You failed to apply basic knowledge of statistics and your claims can potentially mislead readers.

OlufemiOG
OlufemiOG

I completely agree with the author. While using an iPad as my main tablet, it had very limited usefulness considering that I could check up most things on my smartphone. It was not my "go-to" device. But all that changed with the purchase of the Nexus 7(2013). The Nexus is, in my view, just the right size to hold, to reach out for when seated or standing in a crowd and to comfortably take notes at meetings.


Clearly, 7-inch class of tablets will, with time and with the benefit of the experience of both size types, be more appealing to users.

tressolesfinca
tressolesfinca

I think when a first of any first comes out, there was the right size and the 10 inch was right.   For visually impaired folks 10 inch matters. 

stefn
stefn

You do realize the Mini is more an 8 inch tablet. And that Jobs was supporting his company's current product offering? And that the smaller tablets were Android responses to the fact they could not compete in price or presence, with the iPad?

harveylubin
harveylubin

"What a difference three years makes. The 7.85-inch iPad Mini has been a runaway success, and the new iPad Mini with Retina Display seems poised to become the company’s best-selling tablet."

Exactly!!!

At the time, Steve Jobs was talking about the 7" Android tablets with narrow 16:9 displays. Those tablets were, and still are, too small to do any work on.

But the iPad mini was approved by Steve Jobs because it is not as small as those 7" tablets. The iPad mini has a 7.85-inch diagonal display which is closer to 8 inches. But more importantly the iPad mini has a 4:3 ratio display... this different ratio makes a BIG difference in useable display area.

The iPad mini has a display area that is almost 40% larger than those 7" tablets that Steve Jobs was referring to, making it much more useable for doing work on.

Steve Jobs was right three years ago, and his assessment is still just as valid as it was then.

harveylubin
harveylubin

@GaryDauphin Every company "bashes" their competitors' products, and promote their own. Apple is no exception.

But suggesting that one company's talk about a competitor's products will "stall the market for competing devices" is not at all realistic. What DOES "stall the market for competing devices" is creating and offering a better product than your competitors... this is why the iPads are selling so well (not because of anything Steve Jobs said years ago).

FreddieP
FreddieP

Furthermore, your "clear conclusion" that smartphones over 5 inches are too big is simply not true. There could be any number of attributes leading to smartphones over 5 inches receiving low ratings. You have not performed enough analysis to come to such a strong conclusion.

harveylubin
harveylubin

@OlufemiOG

Really? You went to a smaller tablet with MUCH less surface area to work on than the iPad (which you say "had very limited usefulness), and you consider the smaller 7" tablet with about only half the display area of the iPad as having MORE usefulness???

I could understand that if you were only using the 7" tablet for simple things like playing videos and games, but definitely not for productive things like word processing & spreadsheets, High Definition video editing, Web development, VPN, or many other tasks that require a screen larger than 7".

Benjamin1Taylor
Benjamin1Taylor

@stefn  Appreciate your feedback. Did you miss this part?

"Apple may not have a 7.0-inch offering, but the 7.85-inch Minis have the obvious edge over their 9.7-inch counterparts."

The general trend is that users prefer smaller tablets, and particularly 7-inch ones. The transcript from 2010 makes Jobs' thoughts—at least at that time—pretty clear: he thought 10 inches was the minimum viable size for such a device: 

Key quote: "...the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps."

http://www.morningstar.com/earnings/18349752-apple-inc-q4-2010.aspx?pindex=7

Granted, at the time, there were a lot of other things wrong with Android tablets. Jobs was right that those tablets wouldn't be able to compete with the 1st iPad...but I don't think screen size was the actual issue. The issue was that they were poorly-made devices with bad apps.

jared889
jared889

@harveylubin your fanatism toward apple is a joke looking at your age,  seriuosly its a joke a man of your age , your posting are not solid  like your posting about A7,,scuffgate was right for you ?

SactoMan81
SactoMan81

@harveylubin I think Jobs was referring to the original Samsung Galaxy Tab 7" model, which was not pleasant to use because the screen display elements was so tiny. 

Benjamin1Taylor
Benjamin1Taylor

@harveylubin The 16:9 vs. 4:3 ratio certainly plays into Jobs' argument, so thanks for adding this context here. However, I think it goes too far to say that he was "right three years ago, and his assessment is still just as valid as it was then." In 2010, he was against tablets less than 10-inches (regardless of the display ratio), until later, when Apple started developing the Mini.

I think we have to be careful about assuming everything Steve Jobs thought, said, or did was dead on from day one. He actually changed his mind many times.

harveylubin
harveylubin

@FreddieP

Freddy, there are many people who want large phones, but the majority of the phones sold worldwide are still of the smaller, pocket-sized type.

Phones have now surpassed 6 inch diagonal displays, and we are starting to see phones with 7 inch diagonal displays (tablet sized!) like the Asus FonePad 7.

Some people want a phone that is small and light, and fits in a pocket without standing out or weighing you down. For those people, a phone should be a phone, and a tablet should be a tablet, but trying to combine the two means that it becomes neither.

A phablet is too large and heavy to carry around daily, for most people. And those same people see a phablet as having too small a display to do any tablet work on.

But there are others like you that do want "smartphones over 5 inches", and don't mind the trade-offs.

This is why there is such a wide variety of phone display sizes and styles. Everyone can choose the phone size that works best for them.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@harveylubin @OlufemiOG Using a spreadsheet on a tablet is like running a marathon on crutches. If you want to be productive, use a real computer.

OlufemiOG
OlufemiOG

@harveylubin @OlufemiOG My view is that tablets between 7" and 11" are generally not best suited for productive things like word processing, spreadsheets, video editing, etc. For the tasks that tablets are best suited for, 7" tablets are better placed.

stefn
stefn

@Benjamin1Taylor Boils down to What did you want Jobs to say at the time: "We sell a big tablet, but those small tablets are the ticket." Really? Come on.

Cheap, useless, unused tablets do not compete with iPads, just as cheap phones do not compete with iPhones. It's the ongoing, annual dollar value of iPad, iPhone users that creates cash, yes, but also huge leverage. It's why the carriers sell iPhones even tho' they hate Apple for taking control of the customer relationship, demoting them to the status of utilities. And why Apple can deploy updates where Google cannot.

And it did take competitors many years to begin to compete with Apple on big tablets; they still haven't cracked it on price/quality ... I see Wired UK yesterday gave the iPad Air a 10/10 score.

harveylubin
harveylubin

@jared889 @harveylubin

jared889, if your comment was coherent, and not as ludicrous as it currently reads, I probably would be able to respond to it in a relevant way... "seriuosly" [sic] ;-))

harveylubin
harveylubin

@Benjamin1Taylor @harveylubin

Benjamin, you wrote "In 2010, he was against tablets less than 10-inches (regardless of the display ratio)"

Do you realize that that statement is absurd, considering that the full-sized iPad is "less than 10-inches" at only 9.7 inches???

Obviously, Steve Jobs never said anything like that at all!

You wrote: "I think we have to be careful about assuming everything Steve Jobs thought", and I agree with you 100% on that. ;-))

FreddieP
FreddieP

@harveylubin @FreddieP I was referring more to the lack of statistical rigor in the analysis in this article. The author did not control for other factors (e.g. weight, battery life) that could lead to larger phones receiving lower ratings. Instead, the author blindly attributes the lower ratings to screen size without the proper statistical backing. 

jared889
jared889

@harveylubin everything that s not apple is senseless for you, i guess the reports about battery problems ,wifi problems  must be a fake by the CIA

harveylubin
harveylubin

@PaulDirks @harveylubin @OlufemiOG

Paul, I agree with you. Using a spreadsheet app on a 7" tablet is senseless.

But working on spreadsheets is very productive using Numbers (Apple's Office-compatible spreadsheet app) on an iPad. It's more comfortable doing spreadsheets on the full-sized iPad, but even on the iPad mini it is still very useable, and nowhere near the senselessness of trying to use a spreadsheet app on a 7" tablet.

But you said "tablet", meaning all tablets, and in that you are not correct. You should prove it to yourself by actually using Numbers on an iPad and seeing for yourself how productive you can be, instead of just assuming that all tablets (and apps) are the same.

harveylubin
harveylubin

@Benjamin1Taylor 

Benjamin, if that is a verbatim quote from Steve Jobs, then you are correct. However there are two things to consider when he said that:

1) The differences in display area between the full-sized iPad and the iPad mini (1.8" diagonal difference in both 4:3 ratio tablets) is much less of a reduction than comparing the display area of the full-sized iPad to a 7" 16:9 display. So although Jobs was "wrong"stating 10" was the "minimum" (especially since the full-sized iPad was less than that), the reduction in size between the iPad and iPad mini is minimal.

2) More importantly, given the long development times for these types of products, the iPad mini would have already received Steve Jobs' approval to go ahead with development and production, at the time he said that (only 2 years before the iPad mini went on sale). So Steve Jobs was either "wrong" or (as he has done on other occasions) being misleading about Apple's plans for upcoming products.

Remember that Steve Jobs said Apple had no intention of making a tablet, when as we later found out the tablet was under development before the iPhone, but was put on hold until production costs came down.


Benjamin1Taylor
Benjamin1Taylor

@harveylubin Okay: you're right. Guilty—I was casually rounding 9.7 inches to 10 in that comment....following Steve Jobs' lead on the earnings call. But he did indeed say this:

"This is one of the key reasons we think the 10 inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet app."

Of course, by saying "10 inch screen size" he was referring generally to the 9.7 inch iPad.