“The 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps”.
Not our words, but those of Steve Jobs, the late, great Apple leader. Kickstarting the tablet revolution with the launch of the first iPad in 2010, Jobs didn’t spare a kind word for tablets in the 7-inch product category.
“No tablet can compete with the mobility of a smartphone, its ease of fitting into your pocket or purse, its unobtrusiveness when used in a crowd,” Jobs continued during the 18 October 2010 Apple earnings results conference.
“Given that all tablet users will already have a smartphone in their pockets, giving up precious display area to fit a tablet in our pockets is clearly the wrong tradeoff. The seven-inch tablets are tweeners, too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with an iPad”.
And yet here we are today, just over a year since Jobs’ death with our very own Apple “tweener”, the iPad Mini.At 7.9 inches in size, it certainly sits at the larger end of the 7-inch spectrum, and while offering more screen real estate than competitors due to its 4:3 ratio (roughly 30 square inches compared to 22 square inches for the 16:10 Google Nexus 7 and 21.4 square inches for the 17:10 Kindle Fire), it’s still only two-thirds the size of a full-fat iPad.
Steve Jobs had mused over how to make up the difference, stating that “one could increase the resolution of the display.” Apple have failed to do that, with the iPad Mini sitting at the same 1,024×768 resolution as the iPad 2, giving it a lower pixel-per-inch number than rivals the Kindle Fire HD and Google Nexus 7.
Even if they had upped the resolution, Jobs would still have branded such a jump as “meaningless”, once even humorously concluding that Apple would have to throw a sheet of sandpaper in with any potential 7-inch tablet they may make “so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one quarter of the present size”.
But the post-Jobs era Apple have pressed forward with the smaller tablet design regardless. It’s gathering some praise, but a mostly muted response from analysts and consumers alike.
It’s not the first time in recent months that Apple have overlooked the design philosophy that Jobs pushed. Jobs had often stated that for a smartphone to fit comfortably in a user’s hand, 3.5-inches was the “sweet spot”:
“A 3.5 inch handset size is the ‘sweet spot’ for mobile phone design; big enough to produce detailed, legible graphics, but small enough to fit comfortably in the hand and pocket.”
And yet we now have the elongated, 4-inch iPhone 5. It’s said to have been the last product that Jobs worked closely on, and it’d be amazing to have seen the discussion that surrounded the jump to a larger screen size, and Jobs’ stance on the final decision.
There’s anecdotal evidence that Steve Jobs had at the very least changed his mind when it came to 7-inch tablets. During the never-ending Apple Vs Samsung patent trial, an email from Eddie Cue, head of Apple’s Internet software and services, was presented as evidence that suggested Jobs was warming to the idea of a smaller iPad. Cue wrote:
“Having used a Samsung Galaxy, I tend to agree with many of the comments below (except moving off the iPad). I believe there will be a 7′ market and we should do one. I expressed this to Steve several times since Thanksgiving and he seemed very receptive the last time. I found email, books, Facebook and video very compelling on a 7′. Web browsing is definitely the weakest point, but still usable.”
But such receptivity never left Jobs mouth in his lifetime, or at least not publicly.
If there was one thing that Steve Jobs really understood, it was great design and how to turn ideas into intuitive products. This is the man whose attention to detail, right down to the way his love for calligraphy inspired font choices, led to the sublime Mac OS, a completely graphical operating system that avoided command line trickery altogether.
This attention to detail, which characterised Apple during Jobs’ tenure at the top, now seems to be missing; just take a look at how much wasted space there is in full-screen apps on OS X Mountain Lion, and the dated “paper texture” looks of many Apple-built applications. And then there’s the absolute disaster that is Apple Maps, which is as useful a mapping app as drawing a squiggly line on a slice of bread, throwing it in a duck pond and fishing it out ten minutes later after the birds and water have had their wicked way with it.
That’s not to say the iPad Mini will be a bad device. Far from it; we expect it to meet the high standards that all Apple’s products do, and to be a similar commercial success to the iPhone 5, now estimated to have sold almost ten million units. All this despite Jobs’ concerns about screen size.But what’s certain is that we have now fully entered the post-Jobs era, where the man’s once-infallible opinions count for little.
Apple’s continued successes prove that that doesn’t spell financial doom for the company.
But what is worrying is that Apple at present don’t seem too fussed about innovating. The iPad Mini is chasing a market dominated by Android tablets, one that Amazon and Google’s loss-leading approach to hardware seems to have sewn up. The iPhone 5 sees Apple following the market trend towards ever-larger handsets, rather than re-inventing the wheel the way the iPhone once did. And the fourth generation iPad, also revealed last night, seems incredibly cynical, considering it follows just under 8 months after the launch of the 3rd generation “New” iPad. It wasn’t new for very long, eh? While Apple don’t owe their customers eternal bragging rights, it’s easy to understand consumers’ frustrations; when early adopters commit to forking out upwards of £400 for a new gadget, you’re bound to rile even the most devout Apple fanboys when you relegate their relatively new toys to an understudy role so soon after revealing them.
One of Steve Jobs’ favourite quotes was from ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky: “I skate to where the puck is going to be.” Jobs always aimed to be one step ahead of the competition. Whether post-Jobs era Apple sees innovation as just as important as he did going forward remains to be seen.
By Gerald Lynch | October 24th, 2012