From the moment Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Tab, it has promoted the smaller 7-inch display as a feature. However, hints that Samsung is working on a 10-inch version of the Android tablet suggest that could just be marketing hype, and that Samsung recognizes that size really does matter for a tablet.
A CNN Tech story reports that Samsung displayed a prototype “e-reader” at the FPD International Green Device 2010 trade-show in China. Samsung hasn’t stated that it will be a next-generation Galaxy Tab, but circumstantial evidence based on the similarities between the features and design of the “e-reader” suggest that it is really a Galaxy Tab tablet.
The Apple iPad has stood thus far virtually unchallenged–both as a tablet in general, and as a tablet with a larger form factor, with a 9.7-inch display. The Dell Streak, which was one of the first mainstream attempts to compete with the iPad, has a diminutive 5-inch display that puts it more on par with giant smartphones than small tablets.
Following the Streak, it seems that every other tablet announcement has focused on the 7-inch display. The Samsung Galaxy Tab, Cisco Cius, and BlackBerry PlayBook are all iPad rivals built on a smaller 7-inch form factor.
Each of these vendors has pitched the smaller size–and subsequent lower weight–as benefits that make the devices better portable computing gadgets than the Apple iPad. The smaller tablet can fit in a jacket pocket, or easily within most women’s purses, and the lighter weight makes the pint-sized tablet easier to manage one-handed while on the go.
The dirty secret, though, is that the current versions of the Android operating system–the OS that drives the Galaxy Tab, the BlackBerry PlayBook, and the Cisco Cius–is not designed for tablets, and does not play well at screen sizes more than 7-inches. The 7-inch display is a limitation of the Android OS, not a feature.
The difference between a 7-inch display and a 9.7-inch display doesn’t sound like much on paper. But, if you look at an iPad and a Galaxy Tab side by side you can see just how significant the size difference is. The aspects sold as features–more portable, lighter weight, etc.–are true, but they also make the device less functional as a mobile computing platform for many users.
The iPad, when used in landscape mode, offers a virtual keyboard that is virtually standard size and enables the tablet to be used for more typing-intensive tasks. The iPad, and the HP Slate 500 are an ideal size for a tablet, providing a solid balance between portability and productivity.
It is probably not a coincidence that as Google prepares to launch Android 3.0–a.k.a. “Gingerbread”–vendors are beginning to develop larger Android tablets. It will be interesting to see how vendors that have pitched the virtues of the 7-inch tablet will market their own larger tablets once they’re available, and whether or not that marketing will acknowledge that bigger is actually better.