Wired’s Gadget Lab takes a look at the history of 7” tablets, and why Steve Jobs has been extremely dismissive of the idea. To Jobs, a 7” tablet is too small to accomplish anything worthwhile, and many would see the form factor as little more than a smartphone that’s too big to picket, too small to do much.
But the fact that Apple is staying away from that market niche has been allowing others to exploit it without fear of competition—in particular, the Nook Color and now the Kindle Fire. They’re being marketed as media consumption devices rather than tablets—indeed, as PC Magazine points out, Amazon is very careful not to use the word “tablet” in conjunction with the Fire itself, although everybody else throws it around with abandon.
I find it interesting that nobody seems to have twigged to the fact that Apple already does have, in a sense, a Kindle Fire competitor: the iPod Touch. Allowing for the different aspect ratio of the Fire, it has (and for that matter the Nook Color and the Kobo Vox also have) almost exactly the same resolution as the current retina display iPod Touch. It’s just that it has that resolution in a 7” screen instead of a 3.5” one. So the Fire is effectively the device you’d have if you took the current iPod Touch and made it twice as tall and wide without changing the actual resolution.
The basic iPod Touch has 8 GB of internal memory just like the Fire, a few features the Fire lacks such as a camera, and costs about $30 more. It can do most of the same media playing or e-reading tricks (it can run the Netflix client, for instance, for streaming on-line video), and it has a small-screen optimized browser (though not one so advanced as Silk). Its screen is just as good, but smaller—so you might have to hold it closer to your face, but you still see just as good a picture as the Fire will give you in a device that’s a quarter the size.
If Apple ever does come out with a 7” tablet (and you never know, Jobs often pooh-poohs things before Apple turns around and comes out with them—for example, e-book stores), it’ll probably do so by blowing up the iPod Touch, not by shrinking the iPad—and the purpose of it will probably be spun the same as the iPod’s: a pure media-playing device, not meant for “real” work.