Apple pretty much owns the tabletmarket today with the 10” iPad, but the Nexus 7 is here and good (in my opinion, the first viable answer to “why buy this instead of an iPad”), and meanwhile, rumors of a 7-ish-inch “iPad Mini” or “iPad Air” are heating up.
My family has both a Nexus 7 and an iPad, and I find myself using the Nexus 7 more than the iPad, for four reasons. This makes me think that the iPad Mini rumors are likely true. In a nutshell, while a 7” tablet can’t do everything a 10” tablet can do, the 7” tablet can do the things where I’d choose a tablet over a laptop or desktop, and it can often do those things better than the 10” tablet.
First, the reasons that limit what I do on a tablet vs a laptop or desktop:
1) the iPad (like all iOS and Android devices) doesn’t have user accounts, yet my wife and I share the iPad, and I mostly leave it lying around the house. So I haven’t given it credentials for all the individual apps and services I use — in some cases because Vanessa and I would both want to use them; in some cases because I’m not comfortable leaving that credential cached on a device I don’t keep close tabs on. So some of the apps I use the most on computers and my phone, and would potentially use on a tablet, I don’t use on the iPad: email, Facebook, Evernote. The ability to have user accounts or profiles (and have some apps available without unlocking an identity, and other apps behind an identity) would make a big difference here; I have to assume this will happen at some point.
2) typing on any of these onscreen keyboards is frustrating, so I tend to just wait till I get to a computer for serious input. This hit me when I was watching my son Dominic learning to crawl: at first he was perfectly happy to drag himself around on his belly with his arms, his legs trailing behind; as he got closer to real crawling, he started getting frustrated and impatient with the previously good-enough belly slide, because he had the yearning for real speed. So I feel about typing on a tablet: I can do it, and if I were trapped on another planet with no other means of self-expression I would surely use it, but if I have thoughts spanning more than a sentence or two, I’d rather just wait till I get back to a real keyboard to pour them out effortlessly. (And I realize I can use a separate keyboard with an iPad: it basically negates this disadvantage, but also the portability advantage vs a laptop.)
Then, the reasons the Nexus 7 succeeds handsomely at the modest task that is its charge:
3) the form factor. It’s significantly more portable, and significantly easier to hold in one hand; notably this makes it much better for reading on trains and reading in bed. Given the apps I’ve already stopped using (due to #1 and #2), these are the primary ways I want to use a tablet. The iPad’s bigger screen is an advantage, but not enough to make up for the reduced portability/holdability.
4) while Android as a whole doesn’t feel as fluid or natural as iOS, on both platforms the OS is designed to pretty much get out of the way once you’re in an app; that’s to say your real impression of the platform is driven by the apps. The main apps I use on the Nexus 7 are surprisingly good. The first- party Google apps (gmail, Google Reader, Google Maps) are better than on iOS; the builtin Chrome browser is very good; the third party apps I use the most (Kindle, Instapaper, Evernote, Facebook) are all available and good. So the overall impression the Nexus 7 leaves is very good.
So, iPad Mini…?
There are warts to Android — even with Jellybean, scrolling and touch interaction don’t feel as smooth as iOS always has. The back button is a disaster; you never know what it’s going to do. The app selection isn’t as wide as iOS, and even where equivalents are available, they’re often rougher. Plus, I’ve already paid for a fleet of iOS apps. While it’s a tradeoff with #4 above, I have a feeling an Apple 7” tablet could be even better than the Nexus 7.
What all this means is that given the way I use a tablet, I find the Nexus 7 does everything I want it to, far cheaper and more portably than the 10” iPad. I look forward to seeing what Apple does with the rumored iPad Mini (or iPad Air).