As smartphone screens grow, tablets shrink
Karen Ramel had one laptop too many so she pitched an offer to the Craigslist universe hoping an iPad would fall in her lap. She ended up settling for a Fujitsu Stylistic Q550.
In her ad, the Vancouver dental hygienist proposed exchanging her 2008 LG laptop, which originally cost around $1,500, for a tablet, any tablet, that someone wanted to trade.
“Ideally, I wanted an iPad, but when you make an offer like that, you get what you get,” Ramel told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “I had never heard of a Fujitsu Q550 before, so I had to learn pretty quickly before I agreed to the swap.”
The 10.1-inch Q550, which runs Windows 7 and sold for over $700 when it entered the market over a year ago, is no iPad, Ramel admitted. It contains a lumbering Intel processor and memory-sucking programs like Internet Explorer.
But the slate PC does have good features that the Apple tablet, which she had wanted so she could share apps with her iPhone, doesn’t have, including a USB input and a removable battery.
Ramel’s new-to-her Fujitsu is good enough for what she primarily wants to do with it: download free patterns for her crocheting hobby and check Facebook. “A tablet is like a magazine—easy to use, store, and carry with you. It’s kind of like a big phone,” Ramel said.
Indeed, in the mobile-device market, the trend these days is shrinking the screens of tablets and enlarging them for smartphones. Samsung’s Galaxy Note, a big phone or a tiny tablet with its 5.3-inch display, sold more than 10 million units worldwide less than a year after launching last fall. The Note II, lighter than the original and with heartier battery life, will be released this fall.
Also entering the maxi-phone, mini-tablet realm is the Lenovo LePhone K860, a quad-core, five-inch smartphone, which, like the Galaxy Note, is an Android device. The LePhone, which doesn’t have a release date for Canada, is rumoured to be one of the fastest mobile devices out there because its four central processing units will be able to seamlessly run multiple applications at the same time.
With bigger phones selling well, there is no longer much buzz about a possible smaller iPhone or shrinking Android phones coming into the marketplace. But rumours persist that Apple plans to come out with its own smaller tablet, possibly with a seven-inch screen, before the end of the year.
“It’s difficult to forecast what Apple is going to do. They’re very good at hiding things, and they’ve proven to be deceptive in the past, but there are a couple of indications that’s where they’re going,” Robert Young, a technology analyst with Canaccord Genuity, said by phone from his Toronto office. “A seven-inch makes it that much more portable, and Apple has been very focused on the education market. Even Apple can’t ignore the success of the Amazon Kindle Fire.”
According to Young, Research in Motion’s BlackBerry Playbook tablet, with its seven-inch display, is popular for business use because it fits inside a jacket pocket. The seven-inch Kindle Fire (not available in Canada) has become popular for entertainment consumption via paid membership in an Amazon program that gives users access to movies and books.
Pricing is also an issue. The new seven-inch Kindle Fire HD starts at US$199. Apple has always been concerned about capturing the market at different price points. A seven-inch iPad could appeal to consumers tempted by Android devices that have the same memory as an iPad at half the price. (The iPad 2 starts at $519.)
At Future Shop, three Android tablets—the Acer Iconia Tab, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and the Toshiba Tablet—are all available for under $500 and are comparable in speed and functioning apps to an iPad. London Drugs sells the 16-gigabyte Google Nexus 7 for $259, which is compact at 340 grams and seven inches.
Clifford Fong, computer manager at London Drugs’ West Broadway and Olympic Village stores, noted the Nexus 7’s Android operating system makes it faster than the seven-inch BlackBerry Playbook. But the Playbook, which sells for $149, is still a popular choice for those wanting to spend less than $200 on a tablet, he said by phone from the West Broadway store.
Fong uses both a 10-inch and a seven-inch tablet, the bigger one for meetings and the smaller one for everywhere else because of its portability.
“Five or six years ago, the transition was from desktop to laptop because people wanted more portability,” Fong said. “Now people don’t want cables and are going to tablets. Portability is being redefined all the time—not just how big or small, but also how thin and light and how fast.”