Does size suggest function when it comes to tablets?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| July 7, 2012

When the TouchPad by HP went on its fire sale last year, I told my dad about this tablet that normally sold for around $400, but had been knocked down to a ridiculously low $100. He didn’t really have any idea what a tablet was used for, but after I told him he could surf the ‘net on it sitting in the chair in his living room, without having to hold his ancient laptop on his lap, he was sold. He went out the same day, found two at a local Walmart and bought them. (I got one sent my way, too, which was a nice surprise.) He loved his TouchPad, and he probably still would had it not been lost in a relationship-gone-sour.

But the only real gripe he had about the TouchPad was its size. He wasn’t into actually creating things on the tablet, he didn’t use it for work or anything like that. The tablet, for my dad and so many other people out there, is a device to consume, more than it is a device to create. In that regard, the 9.7-inch device was just too big for long stints of media consumption. He liked holding it in a chair more than his old laptop, but just barely.

Now that he doesn’t have the TouchPad, my dad is looking for another tablet. He asks me what I think he should get quite often, and my answer has started to change. Unsurprisingly I have pointed towards Apple’s iPad more than a few times as the tablet of choice, but I no longer think that’s the answer. I just don’t think it’s the answer I should be giving, nor is it the one he’s looking for.

Because the iPad is 9.7-inches, too, and while the new iPad is quite light, it would still get weighty after a while of watching a movie, or surfing the net. My dad doesn’t need a 9.7-inche tablet, or a 10.1-inch (or even 13-inch) for that matter. So I’ve had to start adjusting my suggestions, and that’s when I realized that the tablet market is starting to segregate itself into sizes.

For tablets, size suggests function.

While I think the 8.9-inch tablet size is almost perfect, I think that’s pretty much the dividing line when it comes to size and function. The Galaxy Tab 8.9 is light and has a good sized screen, especially for a device that’s focused so heavily on mobile. It’s perfect for holding in extended periods due to its lightweight and size, making consuming digital content a breeze. But you can also get some work done on it, too, without having to fight for screen real estate.

I think we can all admit by now that a 7-inch tablet is meant specifically to consume. We’ve seen companies like Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and now even Google release 7-inch tablets in the past, and they’ve all been focused on bringing content to you, the consumer. Amazon’s Kindle Fire; Barnes & Noble’s nook; Google’s Nexus 7. All of these devices measure in at 7-inches and their purpose is obvious.

But what about the effort from Research In Motion? They released a 7-inch tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook, and it wasn’t necessarily focused on consuming media as its sole purpose. Quite the opposite, actually. RIM wanted it to be a natural extension to your BlackBerry smartphone, a device with a “larger display” that you could get some work done. Well, it didn’t help that it was missing some functionality out of the box right after launch, but I don’t think that was the biggest drawback to the tablet’s ultimate lackluster sales and presence in the market.

I think it’s the size and the target functionality. Even back then, I think 7-inch tablets were viewed as a means to consume, and nothing else. Sure, checking email and maybe sending a reply is super easy due to the size, but that’s just a bonus. The ultimate goal from Amazon, B&N, and Google is to make sure that your tablet is always showing you something interesting, whether it’s a movie, music, a book, or whatever else. The 7-inch form factor is specifically designed to consume, and it’s perfect for it.

We are going to continue to see this moving forward. If Apple is indeed gearing up to launch a 7-inch iPad, an iPad Mini if you will, then that’s exactly what they’re going to market it as. “The ultimate media consumption device! Yes, you can do that with the new iPad, but the 7-inch model is designed specifically for it! It’s light, the display is gorgeous (Retina, obviously), and the battery lasts forever (figuratively)!”

What do you think, Dear Reader? Does size suggest function when it comes to tablets? Will the 7-inch model always be for consuming media, while the larger devices are geared towards the “laptop replacement?” Or have you purchased a 7-inch tablet recently and made it work for all your work-related needs? Let me know what you think.