Steve Jobs, the late Apple CEO, famously ranted against the opportunity for such products during an October 2010 earnings conference call. During that call, Jobs talked about how such tablets offered just a fraction of the screen size as a 10-inch tablet, while not offering a significant boost over the smartphone that most tablet buyers were already carrying.
Apple could easily argue that advanced screen technology now allows the amount of pixels in the iPad to show up in a smaller-screen device. But Jobs also foresaw that advancement, and indicated that an increase in pixel density alone wouldn’t justify a smaller tablet.
“The reason we [won't] make a 7-inch tablet isn’t because we don’t want to hit [a lower] price point,” Jobs said. “It’s because we think the screen is too small to express the software. As a software driven company, we think about the software strategies first.”
Such tablets, Jobs said, would be useful only if they came with sandpaper to file down human fingers to a quarter of their size. There’s just a limit to how little physical area a screen element can be and still be able to be pinched and swiped, Jobs observed at the time.
So, has anything really changed?
In a sense, not really. Pixel density, of couse, has improved, thanks to the Retina display iPad. Apple could easily do a smaller tablet with just as many pixels as the original iPad. But, as far as I know, fingers haven’t gotten any smaller in the last two years.
Of course, Jobs himself was famous for panning a market, right up until he entered it.
Jobs shot down the notion of watching video on an iPod, suggesting that people didn’t want video on such a small screen. He also talked of the limited utility of small Flash-based music players prior to the arrival of the iPod shuffle.
And what has changed, obviously, is the entry of some serious competitors in the smaller-screen tablet market. Amazon proved the market for a low-cost smaller tablet with the Kindle Fire last year, and the market will no doubt grow with the arrival of the Galaxy 7 from Asus and Google.
So, even if Jobs’s arguments still have merit, Apple may well feel that it no longer makes sense to leave the segment to competitors. A bit of egg on the face may be better than money left on the table, particularly in a market that Apple has come to own.
For those who want a refresher of Jobs’s memorable speech, Engadget has the audio embedded in this archived post.