Galaxy Tab's Million Unit Sales Suggest Popularity of Smaller Form Factor

The iPad is a great device but for true "mobility" it's arguably too large. The smartphone, for others, is too small for many tasks such as watching video, reading news or ebooks -- especially after doing these things on an iPad. What's the solution? The "Goldilocks" form factor, which provides usability and mobility, may well be the 7-inch tablet.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs attacked the 7" as too small and too big simultaneously. Conceptually he may be right but the apparent popularity of the Galaxy Tab suggests there are a lot of people looking for a larger screen (vs. a smartphone) in a more mobile unit. Tech publication eWeek reported that maker Samsung said that a million units have been sold since the recent launch of the Tab. 

My brief experience with the Galaxy Tab in a store in London revealed to me that it offers much weaker user experience than the iPad. Not all agree however. But my belief is that the smaller form factor is driving sales, rather than the particulars of this device. The user experience, like Android more generally, is "good enough" but the smaller form factor is attractive to many people.

The RIM/BlackBerry Playbook is also 7 inches. The Playbook isn't out yet but it promises to be a credible competitor in the tablet market. There are many other 7-inch tablets coming as well. Acer, in particular, is launching 5 inch, 7 inch and 10 inch models.

The 5-inch Dell Streak, a non-phone connected device, is unlikely to succeed because it's expensive and not sufficiently differentiated from a smartphone. Indeed, five inches is probably too small for a tablet, unless it's also a phone, and anything larger than the iPad is too large. The dual-screen version of tablet-textbook Kno, for example, is likely to fail because it's too large and cumbersome.

My guess, however, is that the 7-inch form factor will take hold. So we'll have a range of smartphone sizes, topping out at about 5 inches, and two viable tablets sizes: 7 inches and roughly 10 inches. Apple will then be forced to confront whether it wants to build an "iPad Nano" or cede the market to others.