Opinion: Is smaller better?

27 February, 2012 by Brad Reed
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Apple’s iPad may be the most successful tablet in the world, but few manufacturers seem willing to copy it from a size perspective.

While the iPad and its roomy 9.7in display screen are popular with users everywhere, it seems that Apple’s rivals are intent on making tablets that range from having cozier five-to-eightin displays. Even Apple may be hedging its bets on larger tablets, as the company has been rumouredto be testing out an eightin version of the iPad that would act as a complement to its classic model.

So why have so many manufacturers decided to go with smaller tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Note, BlackBerry PlayBook, Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet? Rapid Repair CEO Aaron Vronko and iFixit technical communication director Miroslav Djuric both say that it comes down to portability.

“A 10in form factor is still a little bit on the large side,” Djuric says. “You need a backpack to carry it around. But if you had something that’s eightines, that almost might be pocketable, it might fit in ladies’ purses easier.”

Vronko expresses a similar sentiment and says that a smaller tablet is “lighter, more portable, potentially even pocketable and easier to fit inside a purse.”

But beyond the portability issue, are there any obvious advantages or disadvantages to having a smaller screen size?

On the plus side, Vronko says having smaller screens makes it more difficult for users to break their screens as tablets keep getting thinner. He notes that he’s seen Rapid Repair customers break their iPad 2 screens at a significantly higher rate than they broke the first generation of iPads and he attributes this to the fact that the iPad 2′s glass “is about 40 percent thinner than the original iPad.” So if tablets are going to keep getting thinner, it makes more sense to have a smaller overall screen size to lower the chances of a break.

The other big positive, Djuric says, is that smaller tablets often mean smaller prices. The sevenin Amazon Kindle Fire, which was the second-most popular tablet on the market in the fourth quarter last year after the iPad, was a big success because its small size was part of the reason Amazon was able to sell it for just $199. Djuric says Apple may consider releasing an eightin iPad at some point just so it can offer its users a version of the tablet that’s roughly in the same price range as the Kindle Fire.

“Apple users are loyal, but now we’re talking about a tablet that’s two-and-a-half times more expensive than the competition,” he says. “If Apple makes a smaller iPad that’s just $50 more than the Kindle Fire, they’re basically going to cannibalise Kindle Fire sales.”

On the down side, Djuric says it’s difficult for tablets to shrink in size without sacrificing battery life. Since iPad users already have strong expectations about their tablets’ battery life, Djuric says any smaller iPad will need to have “a battery that will have to be either optimised or they’ll have to figure out a way to put a similar amount of battery juice into a smaller package.”

Also, Vronko says shrinking down to a smaller tablet size could compromise Apple’s well-earned reputation for having the clearest and most vibrant display screen of any device on the market. For this reason, he thinks that Apple will eventually decide against releasing an eightin tablet until the company feels confident that it can deliver the screen resolution its users expect.

“[An eightin tablet] doesn’t fit in with one of their most successful marketing niches, which is their retina display,” he says. “I don’t know if there’s a panel that could work for that right now in an eightin form factor. Apple would have to release a product with a lower resolution.”

POLL:

What’s your ideal tablet screen size?

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