Why Steve Jobs may be wrong about iPad’s 7-inch rivals

8 Nov 2010

In his look back on the week that was, Siliconrepublic’s John Kennedy looks at the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Tab and why he disagrees with Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs that 7-inch tablet computers will be dead on arrival.

Last week, JK Shin of Samsung Mobile made the prediction that by year’s end there will be 1 million Galaxy Tab users in the world.

This bold prediction came just weeks after an ebullient Jobs came on the phone after a stunning US$20bn quarter and raved how he believes 7-inch form factor tablet computers haven’t a hope.

“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.”

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

His morbid assessment: “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.” On the former view, I disagree, on the latter view he is right, they will come out with 7-inch rivals.

Having spent a weekend with the Galaxy Tab, I disagree that it is too small. It’s actually sufficient for any information consumer. If you want to do more than consume information, like conduct a presentation, I would agree, but if you want to read news stories, watch videos and play games, it’s actually perfect.

My first impression of the Galaxy Tab was just how similar it was to the Samsung Galaxy S smartphone in so many respects, and like the old criticism when the iPad first came out about it being an enlarged iPhone, the same sentiment returned.

But once you delve deeper, play with the settings and download apps, you realise the Galaxy Tab is a sublime piece of engineering. Having four buttons on the front of the device to get more commands, go to the home screen, return page and search actually work well in the device’s favour.

Apps and the Galaxy Tab

Where the Galaxy Tab will struggle, I fear, will be apps. Apple’s Apps Store has 300,000 apps and there are 35,000 specific apps for the iPad, whereas Android just recently passed the 100,000 app milestone.

Apps on the Galaxy Tab, such as the Financial Times app and the BBC app, lack the finesse of the iPad, but are nonetheless functional.

But there were moments where I felt confused about what Samsung wanted the device to be. It’s a tablet computer, yet whenever I turned it on or off it wanted to know did I want to shut the phone down.

So what does Samsung want it to be; a tablet computer or a smartphone? OK,fine, it’s both and maybe we’re getting to the heart of the matter, soon we won’t be telling the difference anyhow, because all mobile devices are, in fact, becoming mobile internet devices (MIDs).

Personally, I would feel a little ridiculous holding this up to my ear making a phone call and it won’t fit in the back pocket of my jeans, but again that’s missing the point. It is a portable media tablet that incidentally lets you make voice and video calls and do much, much more.

As a media consumption device, the Galaxy Tab is perfect and apps like Gmail and YouTube integrate beautifully. Sharing content by email or social media is again a well-engineered affair. Technically, the Galaxy Tab is a tour de force and I reiterate a 7-inch screen is ample for consuming content. Also, it has support for Flash 10.1, which Apple controversially left out of its iPad.

Back to Jobs’ original point, I don’t think it will be DOA at all. Apple can’t have the entire tablet market to itself but it will always have a dominant share of it.

Early days

The tablet computer market is only at a nascent stage and, if anything, I think the competition has been taking its time. Next year, when 10-inch versions of devices like the Galaxy Tab or the Dell Streak come to market, Apple will have competition on its hands and I’m sure the apps market for Android devices will have matured somewhat.

There will be winners and losers. I think Research in Motion (RIM) with its PlayBook has missed the point and in its haste has set in motion potential disappointment. Firstly, it has no 3G radio so users have to tether it to their BlackBerrys and secondly the word ‘PlayBook’ is the opposite to what many conservative business users who are RIM’s mainstay want to carry.

Samsung has also got it right on the pricing of this. It available from €79 on selected bill pay tariffs in Vodafone, O2, Meteor, eMobile, 3 and Carphone Warehouse.

All in all, competition has arrived for the tablet market and I think feisty plays like the Galaxy Tab will help to keep things very interesting.

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