Tablets: One Size May Not Fit All

tablet gallery tilt Tablets: One Size May Not Fit All

by Bruce Lidl

With the Google I/O developer conference taking place, it was a big week for Google, with a series of announcements touching on a number of their business initiatives. Maybe the biggest is the release of their Nexus 7 tablet device. Built by Taiwanese hardware manufacturer ASUS but sporting the latest version of the Android operating system (“Jelly Bean” or 4.1), the Nexus 7 is Google’s first serious foray into the tablet space, and in hardware generally. Apple’s dominance in the tablet space with the iPad remains essentially unchallenged right now, and the Nexus 7 is not likely to change that significantly, but it does demonstrate that Google, like Microsoft and Amazon, with their Surface and Kindle Fire tablets respectively, is not going to surrender the space just yet.

Practically speaking, it is Amazon and Barnes & Noble that will feel the commercial effects of the Nexus most immediately, as the new device is a clear step up from either the similarly sized Kindle Fire or the Nook Tablet, with a much more powerful processor (an nVidia Tegra3 quad-core) and an improved display (IPS LCD at 1280×800), yet at a comparable price, $199. Anybody looking for a smaller and less expensive tablet than the current 9.7” iPad at $499 would have a hard time doing better than the Nexus 7, especially as the content offerings are likely going to be very comparable. (Competitive pressure in this space is strong, the original BN Nook Color can be had now for $119, and the Kobo Vox for $149.)

From a comics standpoint the Nexus 7 should be a strong contender in the non-iPad category, with comiXology, Marvel and DC apps available, not to mention Kindle and Nook apps as well. With the DC graphic novel exclusivity on the Kindle Fire ending, WATCHMEN, et al. should be available on all the major platforms again soon; in fact it appears that the exact 119 DC graphic novel titles that were exclusive to the Kindle Fire are now available on the Nook.

More generally speaking, the trend to more tablet diversity seems to be strengthening. According to industry reports, the Kindle Fire has done very well, with over 5 million sold since its introduction last fall. And there are rumors of more Kindle Fires in the pipeline at Amazon to come later this summer, including possibly larger sizes. While predicting what Apple is going to do seems to be its own industry, there are rumblings of a possible mini-iPad in the 7 inch range. I personally doubt it, considering how strongly Steve Jobs mocked the idea of smaller tablets, and it does not seem very Apple-like to chase a market others have developed, but one never knows.

A far stronger possibility, at least to my mind, is that there may be larger screen iPhones in the future. In the Android world the trend to bigger and bigger screens has been very strong, with almost all of the hot (and very well selling) Samsung and HTC phones sporting screens considerably larger than the iPhone standard 3.5 inch size. Not to mention the birth of the “phablet” category of devices, most famously in the case of the Samsung Galaxy Note with a 5.3 inch display, that is proving more popular than many early predictions, particularly in Asia.

Again, from a digital comics perspective, the growth in devices with screens that can display larger format graphics effectively has to be seen as a positive one. I would never have considered reading a traditionally formatted comic on my first smartphone, that had a relatively small (3.2 inch) screen, but I have no problem doing so on my current phone that sports a 4.52 inch display. Not to mention on a 7 inch screen like that on the Nexus 7. Obviously, opinions vary, and many comic readers have different tolerances for what they consider an acceptable size and format, but regardless of preference, there are likely to be devices that can fulfill it nicely in the future.

Comments

  1. I can think of one case where Apple did take their high-end brand and target a lower-tier segment: The iPod Mini/Nano and iPod shuffle.

    And as far as Jobs’ comments on 7″ tablets go, let’s not forget how they told first-generation iPhone users that they would never need apps (while they were working on an app platform and store), or repeatedly told the world that PowerPC processors were better than Intel until they switched over.

    So I wouldn’t write off the 7″ iPad just yet.

  2. I can think of one case where Apple did take their high-end brand and target a lower-tier segment: The iPod Mini/Nano and iPod shuffle.

    And as far as Jobs’ comments on 7″ tablets go, let’s not forget how they told first-generation iPhone users that they would never need apps (while they were working on an app platform and store), or repeatedly told the world that PowerPC processors were better than Intel until they switched over.

    So I wouldn’t write off the 7″ iPad just yet.

  3. Bruce Lidl says:

    Kelson, excellent points, but I just feel Jobs was so categorical about this particular case that it still seems unlikely. But I’ve been wrong before.

  4. Bruce Lidl says:

    Kelson, excellent points, but I just feel Jobs was so categorical about this particular case that it still seems unlikely. But I’ve been wrong before.

  5. “Nexus 7 is Google’s first serious foray into the tablet space, and in hardware generally.”

    Just to nitpick, Google’s first foray in hardware was with the Nexus One. However, each time there was another company involved in making of the hardware. The Nexus 8, their new media hub is the first time Google is actually making the hardware themselves (all made in the US even).

    Also one of the interesting thing with the Nexus 7 is that not only does it come preloaded with content (new Bourne novel, Transformers 3, some magazines) but it comes with a $25 gift certificate for the Google Play to get people used to using their store to buy content. I’m be curious if this would include content from comiXology, Marvel and DC and Dark Horse apps. I imagine Dark Horse wouldn’t work since right now it’s all done through their website, not the Google Play store.

  6. “Nexus 7 is Google’s first serious foray into the tablet space, and in hardware generally.”

    Just to nitpick, Google’s first foray in hardware was with the Nexus One. However, each time there was another company involved in making of the hardware. The Nexus 8, their new media hub is the first time Google is actually making the hardware themselves (all made in the US even).

    Also one of the interesting thing with the Nexus 7 is that not only does it come preloaded with content (new Bourne novel, Transformers 3, some magazines) but it comes with a $25 gift certificate for the Google Play to get people used to using their store to buy content. I’m be curious if this would include content from comiXology, Marvel and DC and Dark Horse apps. I imagine Dark Horse wouldn’t work since right now it’s all done through their website, not the Google Play store.

  7. Bruce Lidl says:

    Matthew, you don’t have to tell me about the Nexus One, I had one! I’m just not sure you can call what Google did with that all too “serious.” I suspect they are going to have a lot more follow through with the Nexus 7 than they did with the One.

    Great point about the gift certificate, we should know how it works pretty soon.

  8. Bruce Lidl says:

    Matthew, you don’t have to tell me about the Nexus One, I had one! I’m just not sure you can call what Google did with that all too “serious.” I suspect they are going to have a lot more follow through with the Nexus 7 than they did with the One.

    Great point about the gift certificate, we should know how it works pretty soon.

  9. likefunbutnot says:

    Apple’s tablets are genuinely, legitimately awful for anything but hands-off, passive consumption of Apple-approved media. They’re heavy for their size and until the ipad3 they also have very low resolution screens.

    For a company that prides itself on human factors, basic stuff like making a device that can be comfortably held in one hand should’ve been something like a priority to SOMEONE.

    Non-Android tablets really do get ergonomics right in ways that Apple didn’t. Last-generation 7″ tablets were only short a few thousand pixels vs. Apple’s 9″ device, yet weighed about half as much and, with a rectangular aspect ratio, were much easier to hold on to. Some companies also offer 8.9″ and 10″ tablets that might work better for some people as well. Personally I don’t really like larger devices; I’ve found that as my tablet gets larger, it also gets more awkward to carry and use.
    I know the word “tablet” immediately causes everyone to drool over Apple stuff. I find that to be unfortunate, because a lot of other companies are doing great work to build better and more useful devices than the one Apple is offering.

    I don’t think having a high resolution 5″ iphone will address this in a meaningful way, simply because there’s not enough surface area on that screen to make meaningful use out of the extra pixels.

  10. likefunbutnot says:

    Apple’s tablets are genuinely, legitimately awful for anything but hands-off, passive consumption of Apple-approved media. They’re heavy for their size and until the ipad3 they also have very low resolution screens.

    For a company that prides itself on human factors, basic stuff like making a device that can be comfortably held in one hand should’ve been something like a priority to SOMEONE.

    Non-Android tablets really do get ergonomics right in ways that Apple didn’t. Last-generation 7″ tablets were only short a few thousand pixels vs. Apple’s 9″ device, yet weighed about half as much and, with a rectangular aspect ratio, were much easier to hold on to. Some companies also offer 8.9″ and 10″ tablets that might work better for some people as well. Personally I don’t really like larger devices; I’ve found that as my tablet gets larger, it also gets more awkward to carry and use.
    I know the word “tablet” immediately causes everyone to drool over Apple stuff. I find that to be unfortunate, because a lot of other companies are doing great work to build better and more useful devices than the one Apple is offering.

    I don’t think having a high resolution 5″ iphone will address this in a meaningful way, simply because there’s not enough surface area on that screen to make meaningful use out of the extra pixels.

  11. I have an Android rooted HP Touchpad that I think is just great. The 10″ screen is perfect for reading digital comics.

  12. I have an Android rooted HP Touchpad that I think is just great. The 10″ screen is perfect for reading digital comics.

  13. I am fighting myself from pre-ordering one of these! But, okay… here’s my burning question about it: will the Comixology app on this thing work the same way as it does on my Android phone?

    Let me get more specific: on my phone, I can download a comic and read it even if I have no cell phone or wi-fi access. The comic is just on there. This is glorious. Especially when I am, for example, on the train to Harrisburg or on a subway.

    So far, it has seemed that just because an app works one way on one Google or Google-licensed product, it doesn’t wok the same on another.

    If it turns out that you can only read Comixology comics on the Nexus 7 when you have internet access, it is worthless to me. If I can’t read it on car trips I just don’t want it.

    If anyone can answer this question I would love it. I tweeted it to Comixology but they didn’t really answer. They were just like, “Well, we are in the Android store.”

  14. TheRealCBONE says:

    “Let me get more specific: on my phone, I can download a comic and read it even if I have no cell phone or wi-fi access. The comic is just on there. This is glorious. Especially when I am, for example, on the train to Harrisburg or on a subway.”

    Once you download/sideload your comics to the Nexus, they are there whether you have internet access or not, until/unless Comixology changes the way their app works.

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