Some have made the case, admittedly admirably, that if Apple were to make a tablet smaller than the iPad, it would come in at 7.85″. Technically this makes sense, but it’s only looking at the issue from a hardware perspective, not from a functional one.
Take the iPhone and iPad for instance.1 The two devices are extremely similar on a technical level, with neither really beating the other out insofar as general use goes. That is to say, the iPhone can do more or less what the iPad can, and vice versa. The only major caveat here is that the iPhone is a phone, and the iPad is larger.2 And it’s the latter point we’ll focus on, because size in this regard is important.
The iPhone and iPad are so similar that Apple-haters have called the iPad nothing more than an oversized iPhone. And while that’s somewhat true from a thousand-foot perspective, it’s tough to argue that iPad and iPhone sales are cannibalizing one another, especially when so many owners of one also own the other.
Why is that?
It’s a matter of use, and environment is only one factor. For example, we use TweetBot on both our iPhone and our iPad, but how we use TweetBot on the two devices is somewhat different. For example, we have both apps hooked up to our Readability account, but when we come across a link to an article in our Twitter feed when we’re using TweetBot for the iPhone, we’ll typically send it to Readability to read later without even peeking at it first. On the iPad, we’ll generally click the link to the article, and either read it right then, else save it to Readability to reference at a later time. The point is, while TweetBot on both apps offers the same functionality, we’ll favor a particular workflow on one device over another, because a given device is better for some tasks depending on the form the device takes.
That’s the reason mobile versions of web sites make more sense on the iPhone. At first, we were incredibly annoyed that most mobile web site versions lacked the same features as the “full” site, but from a use scenario, most people don’t need access to the full site when they’re using a mobile device.3 That’s because most people aren’t using the iPhone as their primary browser, but rather a backup browser used on the road.
The iPad, however, is another story. A lot of people are using the iPad as their primary computing device, and so expect web sites to load with all the functionality in a desktop version. That’s why it’s so important for developers to ensure that web site versions designed for viewing on phones aren’t the design that show up for tablet users: the user expectation is different.
There are also some apps that simply wouldn’t work on a given device, even though there’s no technical reason an app couldn’t be written for it. We’ve recently enjoyed sketching out some design ideas in Papers, an app made for iPad. There’s no reason the developers couldn’t make Papers into a universal app and offer an iPhone version, but it would detract from the experience; part of the joy of using Papers on an iPad is the amount of drawing real-estate available to the user, and decreasing this real-estate would make for a less-enjoyable experience. In fact, this the reason we don’t see the type of drawing apps on iPhones as we do on the iPad: the iPhone’s screen is too small to be of any real use to artists.
What does this have to do with a smaller iPad?
Whether or not Apple can release a 7.85″ tablet without annoying developers, there’s nothing a 7.85″ tablet would do that the iPhone and iPad can’t, on both a technical level and a task-specific one. Whereas we’ve illustrated how workflows can change depending on whether you’re using an app on an iPhone or iPad, and how some apps simply make more sense on one form factor, what makes best sense on a 7.85″ tablet? Nothing.
A 7.85″ tablet would be too small for gaining the major benefits of apps like Papers, and too big to be an always-available backup device for checking mail, Twitter, etc. Our use of TweetBot on this imaginary 7.85″ device would either mimic our use of TweetBot on the iPhone or iPad, but not differ the way it does between version now. No matter what kind of an app you can think of, the app will always suit an iPhone or iPad better.
A 7.85″ device simply makes no sense in this market, and we don’t even need to argue costs to make that case.
We’re lumping the iPod Touch in the with the iPhone, for the sake of simplicity. ↩
Since Siri is technically still in beta, we won’t consider Siri a worthwhile caveat in this argument. After all, despite the fact that Apple heavily marketed Siri with the iPhone 4S, Siri is non-existent on the other two iPhone models sold today; Siri is less an argument for the iPhone than it is the iPhone 4S. ↩
Though, we still maintain that users should have the option of loading a full site on an iPhone if requested, in the event they do need specific functionality. ↩