iPad’s 7-inch tablet rivals will be DOA, warns Apple’s CEO

19 Oct 2010

The slew of 7-inch tablet devices due to hit the market shortly will be “dead on arrival”, Apple CEO Steve Jobs warned last night. Manufacturers of these devices, he said, will realise that 7-inch screens are too small and will push for 10-inch versions next year.

A bullish Jobs, savouring Apple’s US$20bn quarterly figures, said last night how during the fourth quarter Apple sold 14.1 million iPhone smartphones, “handily” surpassing Research in Motion, which sold 12.1m BlackBerrys.

He said he doesn’t see RIM catching up with Apple any time in the future. “They need to move beyond their areas of strength and comfort into unfamiliar territory and become a software platform company. That’s going to be a challenge for them to create a competitive platform and convince developers to develop apps for a third platform after iOS and Android.”

With 300,000 apps on Apple’s Apps Store, Jobs said RIM has a high mountain to climb.

Attacking Android

“But what about Google?” Jobs railed in his surprise appearance on Apple’s Q4 earnings call. “Last week, (CEO) Eric Schmidt reiterated that 200,000 Android devices are being activated per day and they have 90,000 apps in their Apps Store. For comparison, Apple has 275,000 iOS devices activated per day on average for the past 30 days, peaking at 300,000.”

Jobs seemed angry that Google hasn’t published solid data on how many Android phones are shipping per quarter. “Gartner reported 10m phones shipped in the June quarter and we’ll have to wait and see if iPhone or Android is winning.”

Jobs then switched his attack to what he believes is Google’s portrayal of the emerging computing landscape as open versus closed and described this as “disingenuous.”

“Unlike Windows, where most PCs have the same interface and run the same apps, Android is very fragmented.

“The largest OEMs who make Android devices – including HTC and Motorola – have had to use proprietary interfaces to separate them from the commodity experience where the user is left to figure it out. This compares with the iPhone, where the interface is the same.”

Jobs cited the example of TwitterDeck which launched an app for the Android platform and had to contend with 100 versions of Android on 234 different handsets. “This presents developers with a daunting challenge. Compare this with the iPhone where there are two versions – the current and most recent – to test against.

“In addition to Google’s Android market, Amazon, Verizon and Vodafone are creating their own apps stores for Android which customers must search and developers work with to distribute apps.

“Contrast this with Apple’s integrated Apps Store with three times as many apps and offers developers a one-stop shop to get to market easily and get paid swiftly.

“Even if Google are right and closed versus open is a real issue, it’s worth remembering that open systems don’t always win.”

He went on to ask which is better, fragmented versus integrated? “Android is becoming very fragmented. Users aren’t supposed to be systems integrators. We believe integrated will trump fragmented every time. We are committed to the integrated approach no matter how many times Google tries to characterise it as closed.”

Jobs sounds the death knell for 7-inch tablet computers

Jobs moved onto the “avalanche” of tablet computers poised to enter the market in the coming months. “There appears to be just a handful of credible entrants. Almost all are 7-inch compared to 10-inch.

“One would naturally think that 7-inch screens would offer 70pc of the benefits of a 10-inch screen. But remember screen measurements are diagonal, so in fact it is only 45pc as large.”

He illustrated his point by saying if you held a 7-inch device upright against an iPad it would be only half the size of an iPad display. “That’s not sufficient for great tablet apps, in our opinion.

“It would be meaningless unless they included sandpaper to sand down your fingers to quarter their size. We’ve been testing interfaces and understand this stuff. There are limits before users can reliably tab, pinch or flick on a screen. Ten inches is the minimal space you need to create great tablet apps.”

Jobs said the effort manufacturers such as Dell and Samsung were making to create devices that were almost the same size as smartphones was a pointless exercise and called devices like the Streak and Galaxy Tab as “tweeners” – too small to compete with an iPad and too big to compete with smartphones.

“Every tablet owner is also a smartphone owner and no tablet can compete with the unobtrusiveness of a smartphone.”

Jobs also said Android tablet computer makers were pushing product out ahead of its time. “Even Google is telling tablet makers not to use Froyo, its latest Android OS, and to wait for a tablet release.

“What does it mean when a software supplier tells you not to use their software in your tablet computer and what does it mean when you ignore them and use it anyway?

“The iPad has 35,000 apps on the Apps Store while the new crop will have zero.

“These tablet makers will also have a tough time coming close to iPad prices. We learned from making iPods, iPhones and Macs – and we developed the A4 chips, enclosures, batteries, everything – how to make an incredible product at a great price.

“The 7-inch tablets will be DOA – their manufacturers will learn the painful lesson that their tablets are too small and will increase in size next year – thereby abandoning those customers and developers who jumped on the 7-inch bandwagon with an orphan product. It sounds like a lot of fun ahead,” Jobs predicted.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years