Smaller Tablet Trend Bad News For Would-Be iPad Content Creators – The ‘Book Mystique

I’m a habitual contrarian. It’s not by design and I don’t really work at it, but I find myself more often than not in spaces where the mainstream crowd isn’t.

Case in point: having learned to like the iPad experience (albeit with reservations), I find the popular trend has switched away from the full-sized 9.7-inch iPad that I find none too big for my needs and tastes, toward smaller 7.6-inch tablets, or even smaller “phablet” smartphone/tablet convergence devices.

It’s not that I don’t understand the appeal of these more portable, lighter-weight, and often cheaper devices, but for me pocketable ultra-mobility just isn’t a top-tier priority. Computing power and squint-free screen size are. Consequently, I’m concerned about future development emphasis on the full-size iPad as focus shifts to the now hotter-selling iPad mini.

Perhaps even more ominously, the rumor mills are suggesting that the 5th-generation iPad will be shrunk in form factor to emulate the mini’s “marginless” screen and slimmer profile, which can’t bode well for internal space to provide enhanced power and battery life.

Smaller Tablets Projected To Dominate In 2013

In a DisplaySearch Analyst Blog, NPD’s David Hsieh observes that by releasing the iPad mini in late 2012, Apple tacitly acknowledged that smaller size (7-9-inch) tablet computers will become a larger market segment than larger 9.7-inch and 10.1-inch units. Hsieh says key aspects to smaller tablet devices’ surging popularity are their more attractive prices and their one handed rather than two handed holdability, citing data published in the latest DisplaySearch Monthly TFT LCD Shipment Database indicating that in January 2013, tablet PC panel shipments shifted dramatically toward smaller screen sizes.

On the other hand, shipments of 9.7-inch tablet PC display panels collapsed, falling from 7.4 million units to 1.3 million, with shipments of 10.1-inch panels growing only slightly, while 7-inch and 7.9-inch panel shipments grew rapidly, from 12 million to 14 million units, and the January panel shipment data possibly a bellwether for the year. Hsieh observes that while Apple had planned to sell 40 million iPad minis (7.9-inch) and 60 million iPads (9.7-inch) in 2013, reality seems to be trending toward the obverse, with the iPad mini sprinting ahead out of the blocks, proving more popular than the iPad, and Apple rumored to have revised its projections to a ratio of 55 million iPad minis to 33 million full-sized iPads to ship this year.

And it still remains to be seen how much 7.x-inch tablet computer sales will be affected by 5-6-inch smartphone “phablet” sales. Mr. Hsieh suggests that as smartphones move to larger sizes such as 5-6-inch, phablets — converged smartphone and tablet PC devices — could cannibalize the 7.x-inch tablet market as well, a dynamic that seems highly probable.

Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt observes that even though it never attends, Apple has always been a presence at Mobile World Congress held every year since 2009 in Barcelona.

However, while in past years Apple’s iPhone platform has even in absentia set the bar by which other smartphone vendors measured themselves, that’s not the case this year. Elmer-DeWitt cites Jefferies analyst Peter Misek in a “flash note” to clients contending that 4.7-inch to 5.5-inch are becoming the new standard screen size for mobile devices, and noting: “We think this demonstrates how badly Apple is losing the screen-size war. And while this has primarily been a high-end trend so far, we think that it could be even more pronounced as it moves to the low end and consumers do not have the money to buy a smartphone and a tablet so they migrate to the phablet form factor.”

That’s all very well if you really do want one multi-purpose device. I prefer to continue with multiple devices tasked to more specifically-focused roles as long as opting for a single device requires significant compromise in functionality and efficiency.

Actually, I think I could settle on using a full- size tablet for 90 percent of what I do with computers — if — and it’s a big “if,” Apple would build my minimum laundry list of features and capabilities into the iPad. I’m Not holding my breath. Currently, my computer screen time is proportioned about 50-50 between the iPad and my Macs, and every time I half-convince myself that the iPad could be an adequate production tool for most of what I demand of a production platform, I’m jolted back to reality by some maddening iPad shortcoming, such as Gmail’s new user interface — which I detest at the best of times — being absolutely impossible under the iOS, or the need to upload an image to a posting CGI, or to take a partial screen image capture, and of course multitasking is hopeless on the iPad.

On my main Mac running OS X Mountain Lion, I keep nine what used to be called Spaces configured and sometimes have partially-completed projects open in most or even all of them. The iPad isn’t even in the same galaxy in that context. Too many times I’ve had an email partly composed, bopped away to another app for a moment to check or copy something, only to return and find my work-in-progress wiped out. Not to mention the tedium of being unable to view more than app or window at a time.

The thought keeps recurring that perhaps a Microsoft Surface would be the solution, but so far it’s been selling poorly, which makes one wonder if it eventually will go the way if the Zune. Network World’s Wane Rash posted an interesting blog this week comparing Microsoft’s Surface running Windows RT (not the newer and very pricey Pro model) to the iPad, and noting some important differences:

• While the iPad is primarily a content consumption device, the Surface, which comes with a watered-down version of Microsoft Office and access to the file system is oriented toward content creation as well as consumption.

• Where the iPad isolates users from the world of networks, servers and enterprise printers, the Surface works with them seamlessly.

• Where the iPad requires you to work with its iOS grid-of-icons interface, the Surface gives you a choice of tiles, icons or even an actual command line.

• The Surface RT supports true multitasking — you can have two apps open at the same time, and you can rotate between apps by sliding them in from the left side of the screen.

• Surface RT has a full-sized USB port that will work with external storage or pretty much anything else that needs a USB connector, and there’s a micro-SD slot and a micro-HDMI connector. All you get with an iPad is Apple’s proprietary, limited (and flimsy) Lightning connector.

Food for thought. Obviously even the “consumer” version of the Surface has work tool capabilities that the iPad can’t match. Rash says if he had to choose, and could afford it, he’d probably buy one of each.

BetaNews columnist Joe Wilcox has posted a glowing report on Windows 8 after using it for most of February on a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet as his primary PC, saying he’s loved the experience.

“I haven’t felt so good about using a Microsoft operating system for a decade,” enthuses Wilcox. “Actually, I’ve never felt like this. Windows 8 Pro is simply amazing when experienced on the right device, and starting point is touch. Modern UI really works for me. Windows 8’s visuals are stunning, making a truly satisfying and fun place to work. I enjoy working on Windows 8, [whose] pretty UI beckons me to come back again and again.”

“Surface Pro is how Microsoft’s Modern UI needs to be experienced,” says Wilcox.

Me, I’ll probably stick with a Mac/iPad tandem for the foreseeable future, continue grumbling and wondering why I don’t just buy a Surface.

But there may be hope for the iPad yet.

Exciting and intriguing news for those of us who struggle with the iPad’s manifold limitations, albeit maddeningly light on detail, is a report by Digitimes’ Alex Wolfgram that Quantum is currently working on a new all-in-one iPad accessory designed to address complaints many consumers have about their Apple tablets, including the devices’ lack of additional storage, missing ports, battery life, sound quality and overall fragility, according to the company.

“The limitations of the iPad’s various iterations are well-documented at this point, Wolfgram cites Quantum CEO Robert Federowicz commenting.” “We aim to smash through those limitations and make the iPad more powerful and more useful than ever before.”

The report notes that Quantum recently announced that engineering has begun on a new prototype of the all-in-one accessory. After thoroughly testing it, the company plans to put the device into production and have it on store shelves as soon as possible.

Can’t happen soon enough to suit me.

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