My personal belief is that Steve Jobs is the greatest American businessman of the last century. So when he made adamant statements about product development and the limitations thereof – he was almost always proven right.
How soon the lessons our hero passed on are seemingly forgotten. It appears that Apple successors are already testing barriers the hero had set in terms of the iPad’s scale.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple is working with component suppliers in Asia to test a new tablet computer with a screen size of around 8 inches. That’s smaller than the iPad 2′s current 9.7-inch screen.
It was only 16 months ago when Mr. Jobs publicly ranted about how a tablet screen under 10 inches just wouldn’t work. Speaking on a quarterly earnings conference call, Mr. Jobs said “there are clear limits of how close you can place physical elements on a touch screen, before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them. This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps.”
He was in particular talking about seven-inch tablets hitting the market, such as Amazon’s Kindle Fire. But his comments still apply for eight-inchers, too.
Here’s the excerpt of Mr. Jobs’ speech from October 2010:
I’d like to comment on the avalanche of tablets poised to enter the market in the coming months.
First, it appears to be just a handful of credible entries. Not exactly an avalanche. Second, almost all of them use seven-inch screens, as compared to the iPad’s near 10-inch screen.
Let’s start there. One naturally thinks that a seven-inch screen would offer 70% of the benefits of a 10-inch screen. Unfortunately this is far from the truth. Screen measurements are diagonal. So that a seven-inch screen is only 45% as large as iPad’s 10-inch screen. You heard me right: Just 45% as large.
If you take an iPad and hold it up in portrait view, and draw a horizontal line halfway down the screen, the screens on seven-inch tablets are a bit smaller than the bottom half of the iPad display. This size isn’t efficient to create great tablet apps in our opinion.
While one could increase the resolution to make up some of the difference, it is meaningless unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one-quarter of their present size. Apple has done extensive user testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff.
There are clear limits of how close you can place physical elements on a touch screen, before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them. This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps.
Third, every tablet user is also a smartphone user. No tablet can compete with the mobility of a smartphone–its ease of fitting into a pocket or purse, its unobtrusiveness when used in a crowd. Given that tablet users will already have a smartphone in their pockets, giving up precious display area to fit a tablet in their pocket is clearly the wrong tradeoff.
The seven-inch tablets are tweeners. Too big to compete with a smartphone; too small to compete with a iPad.
I think that settles it.