It used to be that everyone wanted the smallest. Phone that is. The race to reduce the size and weight was started by the Motorola StarTAC. Everyone wanted (and had) one. Even smaller and lighter phones came out. But that’s ended. Now there’s a race to the biggest. Many of the almost dozen new tablets coming out are less like PCs and more like smartphones because of their small size. Many of the new tablets coming out are about 7″ long by 2″ or 3″ wide–as exemplified by RIM’s PlayBook it announced Monday or Dell’s Streak it announced last month. The manufacturers want them to fall under the tablet category, but they are really too small to be tablets. In my opinion, the tablet is moving to become a PC without the hard keyboard–so a soft keyboard is needed. For that 10″ is the minimum. These devices 7″ or smaller are really big smartphones. RIM CEO Mike Lazaridis even implied that in his speech on Monday saying RIM customers have been asking them to “amplify the BlackBerry.” I’m OK with that, to each his own. In fact I wouldn’t mind seeing the iPhone get a little bigger by an inch on each side. It would be easier to use but still simple to carry in a pocket or purse. And that is the key here.
Real tablets are moving to replace notebook PCs for some, one day. The functionality is not there yet today. I know, I have been using an Apple iPad for two months now. It’s a great connected device, but not as good when not connected to the network. To support real mobility it needs to have better offline functionality. To be a better PC it needs a whole lot of things like increased memory, USB slot, faster processor, Windows application compatibility etc. If it had the same functionality of my work PC in a slim and light form factor, I’d dump the hard keyboard in a second. But Apple and others are not there yet. In the end, there are going to be many attempts at finding the right shape and size of smartphones and tablets–and a lot of failed products. But those thinking anything 7″ and below is a tablet are wrong, it’s just a really big phone.