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Jobs savages 7-inch tablet competition

That iPad mini? Fuggedaboutit

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If you've been putting off buying an iPad because you're waiting for a more-affordable seven-inch version, or if you've been considering getting an upcoming seven-incher from a non-Cupertinian source, Apple CEO Steve Jobs would like to set you straight.

"We think the current crop of seven-inch tablets are going to be DOA — dead on arrival," Jobs told reporters and analysts listening in on a conference call announcing Apple's fourth fiscal quarter financial results.

Jobs' reasons for the seven-inchers' impending demise should also put to rest those iPad mini rumors that have cropped up from time to time — that is, if his dissing of the seven-inch form factor wasn't merely a cleverly calculated bit of One Infinite Loopy sandbagging.

Jobs' vehement reasoning, however, sounded sincere — if that term can ever be applied to the public utterances of any corporate CEO.

"I'd like to comment on the 'avalanche' of tablets poised to enter the market in the coming months," Jobs told his listeners. "First, it appears to be just a handful of credible entrants — not exactly an avalanche."

His main argument — among many — against seven-inchers was their seven-inchness. "One naturally thinks that a seven-inch screen would offer 70 per cent of the benefits of a 10-inch screen," he said. "Unfortunately, this is far from the truth."

Giving his audience a refresher course in plane geometry, he continued: "The screen measurements are diagonal, so that a seven-inch screen is only 45 per cent as large as iPad's 10-inch screen. You heard me right — just 45 per cent as large."

A display less than half the size of the iPad's — or, in Cupertinoese, "less than half the size of iPad's" — "isn't sufficient to create great tablet apps, in our opinion," Jobs said in royal third-person locution.

He did, however, make one suggestion that might mitigate the challenge of a smaller screen — albeit a painful one: "While one could increase the resolution of the display to make up for some of the difference, it is meaningless unless your tablet also includes sandpaper so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one quarter of their present size."

Touting Apple's "extensive user testing on touch interfaces," Jobs bragged: "We really understand this stuff. There are clear limits on how close you can physically place elements on a touchscreen before users cannot reliably tap, flick, or pinch them."

That's why Apple went with a 10-inch screen for the iPad, which Jobs described as "the minimum size required to create great tablet apps."

Jobs also argued that tablet owners are already smartphone owners, and that both devices have their distinct advantages — and that seven-inchers fall into the chasm between those two device types: "The seven-inch tablets are 'tweeners'," he said, "too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with an iPad."

Jobs also took a swipe at tablet manufacturers who would have the temerity to ship Android tablets without waiting for Google's tabletized version of Android, scheduled for — according to Jobs — next year.

"Even Google is telling the tablet manufacturers not to use their current release, Froyo, for tablets," he said, "and to wait for a special tablet release next year. What does it mean when your software supplier says not to use their software in their tablet? And what does it mean when you ignore them, and use it anyway?"

A reasonable argument — if there were an "avalanche" of tablet makers who had officially announced Froyo-based devices. We (royally) know of but two — Samsung's Galaxy Tab and Toshiba's Folio — although perhaps more might come to our attention before the tablet-capable Android 3.0, aka "Gingerbread", appears.

After touting the iPad's thirty-five thousand apps as an additional reason, Jobs ended his defense of Apple's tablet superiority with an unusual argument: price.

"Our potential competitors are having a tough time coming close to iPad's pricing, even with their far-smaller, far–less expensive screens," he said. "We create our own A4 chip, our own software, our own battery chemistry, our own enclosure, our own everything. And this results in an incredible product at a great price."

Jobs is certain that Apple's expertise in manufacturing gives it a price-tag edge: "The proof of this will be in the pricing of our competitors' products, which will likely offer less for more," he said.

Summing up his reasoning, Jobs allowed himsef a smidgen of gloating over the inevitable failure of seven-inch tablets: "Their manufacturers will learn the painful lesson that their tablets are too small," he intoned, "and [they'll] increase the size next year, thereby abandoning both customers and developers who jumped on the seven-inch bandwagon."

And although the discussion with reporters and analysts was audio-only, you could almost see the Jobsian grin in his final line: "Sounds like lots of fun ahead." ®

Bootnote

At one point during the call, an analyst asked Jobs to comment on his stance regarding Adobe's Flash, which the world's best CEO has famously banned from iOS devices. Jobs' response: "Flash memory? We love flash memory."

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