A 7in tablet is not just a smaller 10.1in tablet

I’ve recently been using a Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, one of the newest generation of Android tablets running Honeycomb (an Ice Cream Sandwich update is in the pipeline. Even though it’s not significantly cheaper than the 10.1in Tab, I got it because of the different form factor: it’s significantly lighter and easier to carry around than the iPad I already use, and makes a nice contrast to the bigger tablets.

However, it also illustrates the issues with using an interface which is designed for larger screens on a smaller touch screen. Some of the applications which are designed specifically for Honeycomb have controls and buttons which are perfect for touching on a 10.1in screen, but which are just a shade too small to accurately hit on something a couple of inches smaller.

This is a point that Harry McCracken makes very well in his post on how it must be possible to build a good 7in tablet. As Harry puts it:

No, the reason that a 7″ iPad seems unlikely in the short term is because it would only have a shot at greatness if it had an interface and apps designed with a 7″ display in mind. A 7″ tablet isn’t just a big smartphone, and it’s not a tinier 9.7″ tablet. Building a 7″ iPad by essentially making the iPhone’s pixels larger or the iPad’s pixels smaller would be the wrong way to go about it.

Part of the problem that Android tablets face is that the free-form nature of Android development means that any vendor can decide on sizes and simply hack its own version of the operating system on to the tablet. If Android applications then don’t fit properly, it’s not the vendor’s problem. It’s just the user’s

  • Richard Lawler

    I suspect the success of the Kindle Fire will drive optimization for 7″ Android tablets. The original Galaxy Tab 7 and the Fire running Gingerbread do pretty well with a pretty large percentage of apps.

    I’ve not worked with any intermediate sizes between 10 and 7, but once you have apps optimized for 7 and 10 it seems likely you’ve covered a lot of the gap. 

    I’m curious. Do the Adobe Touch apps: PS Touch, Collage, Ideas etc support the Galaxy Tab 8.9? (If you can’t download them from the Market, I found you can sideload them from a 10″ tab to smaller ICS and Honeycomb devices.)

  • http://mostlythis.com Mac Morrison

    Ironically the iPad’s main interface suffers from the opposite, a 3.7 inch interface just spaced out on a 9.7 inch screen, iPad specific apps are where the 7 inch screen will start to break.  The move from iPhone dev to iPad dev was more complex than just scale it up.  

    ie:
    http://mostlythis.com/post/700517030/screen-estate-when-apple-announced-the-iphone-4 

    If you’re making a open gl game its less of an issue, though you may want a larger viewport rather than just scaling the graphics.  

    If you are using interface elements, you need to have a more flexible screen layout according to size, android has multiple screen sizes and accompanying layout xml’s per screen size, note thats effective size not pixels so a tv is actually medium res, as the distance from it effectively lowers it’s resolution.

  • http://twitter.com/jgpmolloy John Molloy

    I handed back my Kindle Fire on Christmas Eve, for a full refund (which should trigger some alarm bells somewhere). The seventh morning of waking to find an overnight software update had deregistered my Fire and deleted my sideloaded books led me to believe that even with the 6.2.1 update this device is still not ready for primetime. 

    Which is a shame as it was a great little reader for bed but the risk of putting my book down while I slept and the russian roulette gamble of whether it would be there in the morning was just too much a risk for me to take. Yes I could reload them again, but if I was traveling without my desktop and Amazon decided to send another update while I accidentally entered a wifi zone was just too much of a risk for me to take.

    Bought a Kindle 4 instead and that’s working well. Have to read with the light on though.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe I am being simple minded, but surely it is not beyond the wit of developers to give us an ambidextrous Android system (ie) one that knows whether the model is 7 or 10 inches, or lets the user choose the resolution?

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    Choosing the resolution isn’t really an option with LCDs, but it’s possible for an app to know what size screen is running and adjust accordingly. In fact, apps written properly for Honeycomb can do exactly that. But the problem is the range of sizes that developers have to target, from 5in to 10.1in, with stops at 7in and 8.9in (and probably more) along the way. Effectively, you have to design user elements and an interface for each one. 

  • Anonymous

    Good title. Not sure the article really sealed the deal but the concept is correct: 10 inch tablets are a different product from 7 inch tablets. 10 is great for video but is only okay for reading; 7 is great for reading but only okay for video.

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  • Anonymous

    I first bought some Chinese 7″ screen devices before Jobs had even got his copy out to retail.

    They were not quite the polished units we see today, but my interest lay in their utility. The company I work for had a contract to change a paper-based maintenance manual to an electronic version. We ‘produced’ thirty 7″ and thirty 10″ units and there were 27 technicians assigned to use them.

    At first every tech selected a 10″ unit, I guess based on the big is better principle, but within a month every one of the techs was grabbing a 7″ unit – because they were easier to prop up in their work areas as they repaired industrial equipment.

    We have subsequently landed two more contracts and, after similar tests, both clients again decided to go with 7″ inch screens. We have now added a ‘bumper’, similar to Apples answer to dropped calls ‘solution’ except ours has loops and other devices to enable users to suspend them using their attachment of choice that best enables them to work. One use is for heavy marine engine repair.

    I have a 7″ unit attached to a kitchen door which my wife uses to display recipes with.

    In my experience the 7″ form factor has many applications. I have one on my motorcycle, a 10′ wouldn’t work.

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