In this edition of Ask Maggie, CNET's Marguerite Reardon explains why waiting to see whether Apple introduces a small iPad may be worth your while.
Google's Nexus 7
Amazon and Google have opened the market to a whole new class of tablet customer with their 7-inch tablets priced affordably at US$200. But the attractive price tag is only one reason to like these mini tablets.
Good things come in smaller packages
I am thinking about getting a tablet. But I am unsure about which one I should buy. Several people have recommended the Apple iPad to me. I have an iPhone so I am familiar with the software and I have some apps already. My husband has an Android smartphone. And I also have a Kindle e-reader. I'll probably use my new tablet for reading as well as watching some videos and to let my son play some games.
I'd really rather not spend $500 plus on a tablet. I know there are smaller ones available for less money. But I'm not sure if I'd regret not getting the bigger tablet. Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts on what you think I should get.
The first piece of advice I'd offer is that you shouldn't do anything for at least the next few weeks. Rumours have been swirling around for a while that Apple is planning on introducing a mini iPad or a maxi iPod Touch. Whatever the device is called or modelled after, it's likely to be a touch device with a screen of around 7 inches. And because of the size, my guess is that it will be priced lower than the US$539 Apple charges now for the 10-inch iPad.
Of course, I don't know whether Apple will, in fact, announce this new mini iPad/oversized iPod Touch. The company hasn't made any formal announcement yet. But there has been talk about such a product for several weeks now, which often indicates that something might be cooking.
Word on the street is that Apple will likely announce the next iPhone on 12 September. And the new iPad could follow in October. Since we're already well into August, it makes sense for you to wait at least a few weeks or even a month or two to see what gets announced.
With that in mind, it's hard to say for certain which tablet is right for you. If a new smaller and lower-priced iPad comes on the market this year, it will be a game changer. Recommending whatever Apple offers compared to the Google Android Nexus 7 or the Kindle Fire will depend on the new features and functionality of this new product, as well as the price.
That said, I can tell you without much hesitation that I personally like the smaller, 7-inch tablets when compared to the bigger, 10-inch tablets. I know that millions of people love the 10-inch iPad. And there are definitely some instances where the bigger screen really is better. For example, some people prefer using the bigger screen to watch videos. And, of course, Apple is the tablet leader, so there are tons of apps optimised for the iPad.
But here's why I think it might be worth waiting to see whether Apple introduces a smaller version of the iPad.
For one, the price of the two most popular 7-inch tablets is around US$200 compared with the cheapest version of the iPad, which is over US$500. So, right off the bat, that gets my attention, since I'm kind of cheap when it comes to gadgetry. I can justify spending US$200 on something that I don't necessarily need, but it's a little harder for me to stomach spending US$500 on something that I can live without.
Again, I don't know whether Apple will go as cheap as US$200. But if it got close, I might consider it.
But cost is just one reason why I prefer the smaller tablets. The main reason is that I just think they are easier to use.
In my household, we have a Samsung Galaxy Tab and a Google Nexus 7. The Galaxy Tab is the 10-inch tablet and the Nexus 7 is the 7-inch tablet.
My fiancé and I have discovered, since owning the Nexus 7, that we actually use the 7-inch tablet much more than the older Galaxy Tab. Part of the reason is because the Nexus 7 is a newer and better tablet. But I think the form factor also plays a role.
Typing on a 7-inch screen is just easier. A tablet this size is definitely bigger than a smartphone, but it's not so big that you can't use your thumbs to type. Even though I am a decent typist on a physical keyboard, I don't ever type on the 10-inch tablet's virtual keyboard like I do on my laptop. On the tablet, I still hunt and peck with my index finger. But on the 7-inch screen, I can use my thumbs much like I do for my smartphone, which is actually faster than using my index finger.
The small and light form factor makes it more portable and more appealing for reading. The Nexus 7 is considerably lighter than the Galaxy Tab or even the iPad. And you can hold it easily in one hand, which makes reading a book, magazine or even a news website much more comfortable. I also like to use the Nexus 7 in the kitchen to look up recipes when I am cooking. While I could use the 10-inch tablet for that same task, it just seems easier to have the smaller tablet around for that job.
It's actually easier to play games on the smaller screen. I know it may seem counter-intuitive, but playing games on the 7-inch tablet is easier than on the bigger screen. My fiancé, Mark, said he thought that playing Angry Birds on the big 10-inch screen was going to be great compared with his 4.5-inch smartphone screen. But he said it felt unwieldy on the bigger screen.
The small size means you'll use it in more places. Another thing we use our 7-inch tablet for is listening to Pandora or other streaming audio services. The 7-inch tablet is smaller, so it just fits better in the area where we plug our devices into our stereo. While we could use the 10-inch tablet for the same thing, it just seems bulkier, and we never really used it in this way. Also, we tend to leave the smaller tablet on the coffee table or side table next to the couch. And we use it much more often to check email or look things up on the internet while we're watching TV.
I'm not alone in thinking that the 7-inch form factor for a tablet is a good size. Even though Apple's Steve Jobs may have poo-pooed the idea initially, according to court documents uncovered in Apple's lawsuit with Samsung, it looks like the company spent some time discussing the idea. And, as I mentioned, Apple is supposedly now building a smaller version of the iPad.
While there may have been problems with early 7-inch tablets that made Apple's Steve Jobs think they were inferior to 10-inch models, it seems like many of those issues have been solved. CNET blogger Danny Sullivan recently wrote a post discussing these issues. Specifically, he said that the issues that Jobs had with 7-inch tablets back in 2010 were:
They were too expensive
They were too small for good touch control
They were too big to be mobile
Android's software wasn't tablet ready
There was a lack of tablet apps
He goes on to discuss in his story how each of these very valid criticisms of early 7-inch tablets is no longer true.
Amazon and Google have set the standard for pricing for these devices at US$200. And the popularity of the Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7 shows that consumers are willing to buy these devices at that price.
As I described above, I think the 7-inch size lends itself more easily to a lot more tasks than the 10-inch tablet. And Google's Android 4.1 Jellybean version of software, which is available on the Nexus 7, makes the tablet easy to use. And there are now plenty of apps for Android apps. What's more, Sullivan points out in his story how many apps developed for Android smartphones can be used on the 7-inch Nexus 7 without any issues.
I predict that if Apple introduces a smaller iPad at the right price point, it could be an even bigger hit than the original 10-inch iPad.
So my advice to you is that you should wait. See what, if anything, Apple announces in this form factor. If Apple does announce a product that competes with the Nexus 7, take a look at each of them. I think your decision will likely come down to these two devices.
I hope this advice was helpful. Good luck!