Why I Want a 7″ iPad

I’ve been an iPad owner from day one; well, month one. The first iPad wasn’t initially sold here in France, but I had a colleague in the US buy me one and ship it to me. From the beginning, I felt that the iPad was the computing device that I never had but had always needed. I had played around with a number of small computing devices over the years. I never owned a Newton, but for a couple of months, in the end of 1996, I used one when translating a manual for some Newton software. I owned a couple of Palm pilots in the late 1990s, but I found them too small. I wanted a device that I could use for applications, but also for reading books.

The iPad is certainly a revolutionary device, and was exactly what I wanted. It wasn’t the first tablet; there were a number of Windows–based tablets before it, but they were big and clunky. Just as Apple revolutionized the MP3 player when the company released the iPod in 2001, the release of the iPad did the same for tablet computing.

There are two things, however, that I dislike about the iPad. First, it is relatively heavy. At 651 grams, plus a bit more for a case, you notice it when you’re carrying it in your backpack. When you think about it, an iPad is roughly the weight of an average hardcover novel. Compare that to the smallest E Ink Kindle; at 168 grams – just 30 grams more than an iPhone – I don’t notice it when it’s in my backpack.

The other problem with the iPad is that it takes a long time to charge. Battery life is decent, but I find that if I play a few games, then read the news or a book for a while, my battery life can go down pretty quickly. Unlike the iPhone, which seems to charge extremely quickly, the iPad really needs to charge overnight to fill its tank.

As rumors circulate about a seven-inch iPad, I realized that this would be the perfect size for such a device. It would be smaller and lighter, and for most of the things that I use an iPad for, it would be sufficient. Not only would it be big enough to read and play games, but with the smaller display, it might have longer battery life (though the smaller size also means a smaller battery).

There are two uses for the iPad: creating and consuming. Many people use an iPad to create content: they write, draw, or edit documents that they or others may have made on a computer. If you’re fiddling with a spreadsheet, you want as much room as possible. If you’re writing an article, you may want a larger screen to see more of what you write. (Though in many cases, you could probably write just as well on a 7″ iPad.) However, if you are simply consuming – reading books, web sites and e-mail, or playing most games – the smaller display won’t be much of a problem. Sure, there are some games that wouldn’t work well on a 7″ iPad, and you may need to zoom a bit more to read web pages, but given the lighter weight, I think this is a fair compromise.

It’s no surprise that Amazon’s Kindle – both the E Ink version and the Android version, the Kindle Fire – are so popular. The people who buy these devices are media consumers, not creators. You don’t need a very big screen to read books. While I feel that the smaller Kindle is a bit cramped for reading, this is more because of the limited number of font sizes, and the poor pixel density. A 7″ iPad with a retina display would be far more practical for reading than an E Ink Kindle.

I think that if Apple releases a 7″ iPad, it will be a hit. It may cannibalize the larger iPad market a bit, but it may also attract owners of Kindle devices, who will see the better display and understand the disadvantages of the E Ink Kindles. I know I’ll buy one. There’s not much that I do on my iPad that I couldn’t do on a smaller model. Given the lighter weight, it would be much better for reading books, which is one of my main uses for the iPad.

What do you think? Would you buy a 7″ iPad? Vote in the poll in the sidebar to the right, and if you have any comments, feel free to add them to this post.

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12 replies
  1. Miguel Marcos says:

    What I wonder is about the issue of scaling apps. I’ve never developed nor even glanced at developing environments for iOS but I’ve read quite a few pieces about the concern that apps won’t scale right, requiring a third version of a universal app’s UI.

    Reply
    • kirk says:

      It’s a good point. But Apple might have iOS scale automatically. I’m not sure if that would be a problem or not.

      Reply
  2. Chucky says:

    Someone is wrong on the internet!

    “While I feel that the smaller Kindle is a bit cramped for reading, this is more because of the limited number of font sizes, and the poor pixel density. A 7″ iPad with a retina display would be far more practical for reading than an E Ink Kindle.”

    Poor pixel density? The e-ink kindle absolutely blows away the ‘retina’ iPad on that count. Don’t believe me. Believe the microscope.

    E-ink has downsides, but pixel density sure ain’t one of them.

    Reply
    • kirk says:

      Well, then why are there so few font options with the Kindle? I’m looking at my Kindle with a magnifying glass; I can see jaggies. If I look at my iPad, I don’t see jaggies, but I can see pixels.

      Perhaps the problem is the poor contrast of E Ink. Since it’s so poor, they can’t use slim fonts; all the fonts look bold. The size that I use for reading is chunky and bold; the size below looks just as bold, but is too small. On the iPad, iBooks offers 11 font sizes; the Kindle only 8.

      One problem with this font size is that it makes for very bad link breaks, as too many words are too long and there are big spaces at the ends of lines. So no matter what the reason, the iPad is much better for reading. (Though I like the Kindle for reading outdoors.)

      Reply
      • Chucky says:

        “So no matter what the reason, the iPad is much better for reading. (Though I like the Kindle for reading outdoors.)”

        Besides the outdoors factor, there is also the ‘before sleep’ factor, as the e-ink kindle doesn’t have the blue backlight that impedes the brain’s shutdown functions.

        But beyond those, if you don’t want to believe the microscope, you can find lots and lots and lots of experience comparisons attesting to that heavy reading is much easier on the eyes on e-ink devices than high density backlit pixel devices, (and we’re talking purely on the eyes, leaving aside weight considerations, which will still exist on the 7″ iPad, and leaving aside the aforementioned downsides of backlit pixel devices.)

        I happen to share that particular experience comparison, but as stated, my opinion is not an outlier.

        The iPad is a wonderful device with many, many capabilities. The e-ink kindle has only one capability, but if you buy a 7″ iPad purely on the basis of seeking to replace that one capability, you are highly likely to be disappointed.

        (Of course, all of this applies only to heavy readers, which are a pretty small percentage of the tech buying population.)

        Reply
        • kirk says:

          The “reading on a backlit screen” thing is very subjective. It doesn’t bother me at all, though I know it bothers a lot of people. As for me, I simply can’t read the Kindle without a lot of light; it makes my eyes hurt very quickly.

          Reply
      • Chucky says:

        FWIW, the execrable, but well plugged-in Cupertino propagandist John Gruber, (our very own Paul Thurrott), is now prognosticating that any 7″ iPad is likely to be shipped with a non-’retina’ 163-ppi.

        But even though the point is now likely moot, I will continue to assert that most folks would find even a ‘retina’ 7″ iPad to be a worse device for heavy reading than a dedicated e-ink device, for a diverse number of reasons. And again, I don’t think my assertion here is an outlier.

        (And replying to the PPI chart you reference, I think the microscope pics should clearly show why comparing ppi between e-ink and pixel driven devices is a meaningless comparison. E-ink genuinely has different characteristics in practice.)

        “As for me, I simply can’t read the Kindle without a lot of light”

        Pretty much the same situation as with the dead-tree form factor, which retains the undisputed title for easiest heavy readability over all electronic form factors…

        Reply
        • kirk says:

          I have a reading lamp next to my bed. I can read any dead-tree books with that lamp; the Kindle is too dark (the gray background) for me to read like that.

          Reply
          • Chucky says:

            Someone is right on the internet!

            I’m in full agreement that dead-tree has better contrast than e-ink, and thus performs better in low-light situations. (Though, of course, both dead-tree and e-ink need more light than backlit readers.)

            The only place we disagree is whether or not the 7″ ‘retina’ iPad we’ll see in 2 or 3 years will be a better heavy-use e-reader than the e-ink models available today…

            Reply
  3. MM says:

    Great post! And like iPhone and iPad, I think a 7″ iPad would start as consumer devices that work their way into corporate and educational usage. This would happen especially quickly if a number of the most currently popular iPad apps are adapted, and Apple makes it easier for developers to quickly build for both sizes of iPads. Currently, there isn’t much available at all for Android tablets, and who knows what will be for Surface.

    Reply
  4. Chucky says:

    Why I Want a 7″ iPad:

    At $199, it’d make an excellent dedicated TiVo, Plex, iTunes Remote, plus etcetera remote control to leave lying around on the coffee table in the lean-back media room with the big HDTV.

    The 10″ is a bit too big, clunky, and expensive for that dedicated purpose.

    Reply

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