big phone or small tabletIn the Weekend Links, I highlighted a GigaOM story which claims that sales of bigger phones are starting to cut into sales of smaller tablets. I believe it. When I got my iPad Mini, it was because I wanted a not-phone-sized device that didn’t weigh a ton. I still use my Mini a lot (mostly in situations which call for two iPads, such as the Beloved being able to FaceTime at home on days I stay late at work, or a train ride we take semi-regularly involving a small child who won’t share). But in my perfect tech world, I’d have fewer devices, and when I do eventually scale back, I think the Mini will be most expendable.

Here’s why. I have tried several usage scenarios as my tech arsenal has expanded, and the mini tablet always comes out lacking:

– The Beloved has a Google Nexus I gave him. I thought he would read books on it, but he doesn’t choose books often enough to justify its usage, and when he upgraded to a giant Windows phone, he found it was just as good for reading RSS feeds in bed. First, he started forgetting to charge the Nexus. Then he broke it and it hasn’t been missed. If he were more of a book reader, maybe. But what he does read is shorter blog-based stuff and news, and he can do that just as well on the Slightly Big Phone.

– My iPad 2 was out of juice one day, when I found myself kicked out of the house suddenly. I grabbed my bluetooth keyboard and took the Mini with me instead . And I hated it. It was just too small for me to work on comfortably. It isn’t the iPad’s fault. My eyes just do better with the bigger-sized workspace. So I make sure to keep my iPad 2 charged now…

As for my next-device plan, I am torn. I do not need two iPads. It is nice to have them on those rare occasions I mentioned, but not SO nice to have them that I will keep buying too. I do still need a full-sized device, but the new Macbook Air is so lightweight and so battery efficient that it makes the ‘full-size iPad plus keyboard’ almost a superfluous frill. And yet the Mini is not quite the device I want either…

So I can definitely see how a bigger phone would fit the bill. For keyboard plus screen work, I’d take the Macbook. For a reading backup and mucking around with apps and games, I would take the slightly bigger phone. Maybe I would keep an iPad of a few generations ago as a backup for the FaceTime or Kids scenario—my own, until it absolutely can’t be supported anymore, or something off the secondhand market. But I can see how for everyday use, the larger phone would fill the smaller tablet niche quite comfortably…

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"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."


  1. I have the Note 3 that I picked up this past Spring. I have noticed that I grab that more than I grab me Original Kindle Fire for short news stories or sports and weather. Fore reading I stick with a eInk Kindle and longer stories or composing I move to the full screen PC.

    One thing that I do like about the Note that I wish the Fire had was a microphone and OneNote integration.

  2. LOL, I guess this is what “they” call first world problems.
    I don’t agree with much of what you said, but “they” also say different strokes for different folks.

    I would keep your mind open. The rumored new Air is supposed to be ground breaking, and it’s only a matter of time before Apple figures out how to weld the Air and the iPad together.

    And for that matter, the iPhone could be accessorised for the iPad.

  3. Mike, the next thing is always the best thing until it comes out … then you’re waiting for the next, next thing. Also, I know what you mean, but the there is already an iPad Air. Apple keeps insisting that OS X and iOS will continue to be different systems for different purposes, but it wouldn’t be the first time they publicly stated one thing while intending to do the opposite.

    I also find myself leaning more toward big phone than small tablet. A 5″ screen is great for reading, browsing the (modern) web, and playing many games. It isn’t great for reading email from companies (which don’t have the option of mobile layouts yet). And while “the cloud” is getting better, you never run into synchronization issues if you aren’t switching devices.

    It is quite difficult to justify a few hundred dollars for something only a little better than the device you already use all the time. I think there will always be people that prefer 1-handed phones, though, and the weight savings of 8″ vs 10″ are very noticeable for reading.

    • @Mike, your tone was uncalled for. LoganK disagreed with you in a respectful tone. I didn’t know what you meant with your comment about welding the Air and iPad together, but now I get it after LoganK’s response. The next comment with a disrespectful tone will be deleted.

      Back to the subject at hand. I’m torn on devices. Like Joanna, I like my full sized iPad for working. I don’t think a Mini would do it for me. However, I find the 7″ size perfect for reading. I’m not sure I’d enjoy the 5″ phone, either as a reading device or something to lug around. My iPhone 4S is a perfect size for smartphone functions but too small for comfortable reading for me. However, it looks like the high-end smartphone market is going bigger, so I’m pretty sure I’ll be testing my assumptions later this year when I upgrade. Right now, I’m leaning toward the iPhone 6 or next-generation Nexus phone, assuming one is released before I decide to make my decision.

  4. Juli, I admit my answer was strong and I respect that you can delete anything I post here, but Logan’s answer was disrespectful to the audience by dismissing out of hand my disclosure of a rumour about an upcoming product and how it may alter one’s buying strategy.

    “Mike, the next thing is always the best thing until it comes out … then you’re waiting for the next, next thing.”

    Basically Logan is recommending removing the brain from the decision process.
    After all, your comment is also about projecting what’s coming too.

    How would like it if he had written,
    “Juli, the next thing is always the best thing until it comes out … then you’re waiting for the next, next thing.”
    That would basically suggesting that what you wrote is irrelevant and should be ignored.
    So while Logan might sound nicer, he isn’t be nice at all.

    • @Mike, since what Logan said is pretty much my view of tech (having been burned enough times by buying something new right before the next, best thing came out), I don’t think I would have been offended at all. But then I’m told I’m pretty hard to offend, so I might not be the best person to ask. 😉 And I hope the new Air is ground-breaking. The tech junkie in me wants an excuse to replace my iPad 4, but the current Air just wasn’t different enough to justify it, even in my mind.

      @LoganK, don’t even talk to me about TBR lists! I cringe when I look at how many books I’ve added to Scribd, plus what I have in my To Read collection on my Kindle…

      And I don’t disagree with you about bigger phones replacing smaller tablets. It’s obvious it’s happening and will continue. Second-tier market is fine for me, as long as a market remains. However, my eyes are no longer so good with comics and small text on PDFs. Hence, why I own way too many devices. There is no “one device to rule them all” for me.

  5. I really shouldn’t respond, but, first, thank you, Juli, for being so kind. I almost responded earlier, but deleted my comment as off-topic.

    My intention was not to be disrespectful. I was merely tempering enthusiasm after decades of experience watching product deliveries fail to live up to the hype leading up to them. I was not even recommending that now is a good time to buy (for Apple products, their release dates are fairly predictable and is a great resource[1]), nor was I suggesting that one’s reason shouldn’t factor in. That being said, my personal opinion is that we won’t see a MacBook Air/iPad Air hybrid released this year.

    Back on topic, my point still stands. Those that desire a bigger phone are less likely to buy a small tablet. That shrinks the size of the small tablet market (which already has smaller margins) and means companies will invest slightly less into them if the large phone market continues to be significant. For fiction, I think a 5″ screen is great. The weight (and torque) of a 8″ tablet are fantastic for reading, and I still have good eyes so PDFs and comics with slightly smaller print is an acceptable trade-off. Based on the maturity of the market, small tablet devices are here to stay, but I can easily see them becoming second-tier devices. The technology is so good these days, though, that last year’s internals at an attractive price is actually a great proposition.

    Meanwhile, none of these solutions fix the problem of too many cheap or free books resulting in a reading list that will likely never be finished. (Around here, they probably call that the Joanna problem.) 😉

    [1] For reference, they just released a new MacBook Air two months ago and there is likely to be new iPad Air in the fall.

  6. To clarify, I wasn’t claiming a hybrid for this year.
    My point was the rumour is for a new form factor MacBook Air.
    While Apple has regular upgrade cycles, often when it introduces a new Mac form factor it does this when it is ready regardless.

    The current MacBook Air form factor is quite old. Apple likes to refresh the form factor to remain competitive by adding value in a holistic way. And a new form factor for an Air (if it’s anything like the previous differentiation) could be revolutionary.

  7. This is what I found works best for me-

    Any long form reading is done on eink. It’s just more comfortable on my eyes and the device is lighter than any tablet I’ve used.

    Short stories go on the 5″ phone. I kept thinking that “this thing is too big” but I’ve adjusted and don’t think I’ll ever go smaller. I don’t think I want to go bigger either. The phone is almost always with me and short form reading is great whenever I find myself waiting on someone/something.

    The 7″ tablet is mostly used for web browsing or streaming music but I do put illustrated kids books on it. The kids certainly like that option and do well with it. I often put non-fiction on both the tablet and eink reader. If I want to check a source or illustration, I just pick up the tablet but I’m doing the majority of the actual reading on eink.

    I think the both the tablet and smart phone could be considered expendable but you’ll be prying eink from my hands on my death bed as odds are that I will be reading when I die. Probably with the tablet streaming music.

  8. There is no discussion here of the chips Apple uses which will define if and when convergence of an Air and an iPad might occur. If rumors are correct, the new Air will add retina. We’ve all seen convergence in the OSes. Once the Air moves to Apple’s chips the biggest technical obstacles will have been overcome.
    The biggest issue might be pricing of a dual product. Right now (in the Netherlands) I can replace my iPad2 for a new iPad mini (non retina) at no cost plus I can sell the old iPad2. I simply keep paying the 3G/4G fee plus a small premium per month (I can’t remember exactly but less than €10).

    • @Mike, I think where you’ve caused confusion, at least for me, is in your use of “Air.” When I think of Air, I think of the iPad Air, forgetting that there is also a MacBook Air. So when you said “the new Air will add retina,” my first reaction was “Huh?” I’m probably not alone in being a PC computer user but an Apple tablet user and not as familiar with the names of all the Mac lines.

  9. Sorry. Just to clarify, everywhere I wrote “Air” I meant MacBook Air.

    Anyway, why am I here harassing you all? Not to show off my Mac knowledge.
    Because I am doing this,, which is an effort to eliminate PDF and e-readers and replace them with the ability to read HTML5 off-line content in a browser.
    This challenge is defined by a) figuring out an easy way to create a 5doc file and b) figuring out an easy way to read one.
    Currently one can test this in any modern browser and using GoodReader on the iPad. is an effort to cobble together some best practices, not to create a new standard.

    • @Mike, I stopped by your site, and I completely agree with any movement to get rid of PDFs as “ebooks.” No issues with your points about ePub3 either. I’m hearing stories of half-assed ePub3 implementations displaying badly on ereaders. However, why do you want to eliminate ereaders? I love my Kindle Paperwhite. I don’t do all my reading on it, but I don’t want to eliminate it either. Best camping companion I’ve ever had (other than my husband, of course).

  10. My definition of an e-reader is something – hardware or software – for the reading of HTML content that doesn’t have the features or functionality of last generation browsers.

    So if your hardware e-reader has a browser than that’s fine.

    I started with single documents to demonstrate that an HTML5 replacement for PDF can still be a single file. Obviously a media packed javascript intensive file with several fonts is going to be big, but there are endless ways to innovate about this. That’s where the opportunities are.

    Regarding more complex document containers (to replace an ebook), I will need to find some development money to build a demonstration. I will need to develop for production AND consumption.

    I am using WordPress for production and extending from single documents to a container is a matter of forking what’s available and regarding consumption there are also open source projects that present content in a book type structure.

    I decided it would be best to start with the single file. I am in the process of adding what I call “WideForm” capabilities. More and more narrative content on the web is built using the whole width of the page (as opposed to convention that beyond a certain width, text is too difficult to read. (Example of WideForm content –
    WideForm content is designed only for the web and I think giving it an offline life would be of interest.

    This is an idea for the future to which I hope to attract some early adopters. I was one of the first users of PDF and I remember going to a dinner hosted by John Warnock in ’94 to promote PDF. He spoke like no one knew about but I did. My point is it took a few years but it has lasted more than 2 decades. I hope/expect this will be the same.

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