As I write, the geekier side of the internet is getting more and more excitable over rumours that Apple is to release a 7" tablet. I'm a little bit skeptical to be honest. Not so much because the late Steve Jobs pretty much went on record to say that tablets with 7" screens were dead in the water, but more because of the comments that are often left on the articles fueling the gossip. The main comment seems to be "Great! But I won't pay more than $250 for it".
$250 would be an absolute bargain for a "mini-iPad" and that's the trouble. Apple don't do bargains. They do premium.
Steve Jobs’ comments have already been proven wrong too. The 'Kindle Fire' from Amazon has already shown there is strong demand (so long as you're a big brand who can build a nice app store too) and now there is the Nexus 7 from Google, which has shaken things up still further.
The thing is, both these devices are the bargains they are because Amazon and Google hope you'll spend money in their app stores and use their services and that's where they'll make their money. Apple use the app store to convince you to buy the iPad, but it's the iPad itself that makes the profits. A subsidised smaller iPad would not only fail to make them the same kind of money, but probably also damage sales of the big Daddy 10" iPad, which they currently can't sell fast enough.
Anyway, time will tell. My money is on either nothing at all, or an 8" or thereabouts that will not be cheap at all.
Apple should watch out though. If they do not respond to the new competition from gadgets such as the Nexus 7, they may find the profits starting to take a dip. You see, the Nexus 7 is fantastic.
I got to spend an hour with a Nexus 7 last week. I'm a pretty committed iPad owner, but I'm also on my second Android phone and have spent hours through work with other Android based tablet devices, but I've never felt I'd actually like to own one until the Nexus 7.
Until the Nexus 7, Android (Google's operating system) on a tablet always felt uncomfortable, buggy and devoid of big must-have apps in the app store. Sure, real hardcore geeks loved it due to it's openness, the fact that you could customise it to your heart's content and the fact that it wasn't made by Apple. I'd grown too used to the iPad's level of polish, it's slickness of performance and wide range of apps. I didn't care if it was locked down to whatever Apple wanted, it did (and still does) everything I need.
And yet now, here is a device that, for a fraction of the price, threatens the same level of quality. It's beautifully made, attractive (on or off), as fast as a fast thing and, FINALLY, Android has the feel of a mature, responsive and slick system at last.
I didn't think I'd be too keen on a 7" screen. Sure, I liked the fact that the device would be lighter and I could hold it in one hand, but it seemed just too small to do anything meaningful. That's the first concern you put to rest when you first switch on the Nexus. The screen is excellent. Not 'retina' excellent, but surfing the internet with Chrome (so fast), full pages looked good and I didn't need to zoom before I'd found the article I wanted. Yes, bigger screens are always better, but this is a balanced compromise. If you favour portability, this screen more than makes up for trading size.
If you're wondering if there were any areas where I felt the Nexus beat the iPad, I have one. Games. No, the iPad has more of them and is generally capable of better graphics (or the same graphics at a higher frame rate), it was the fact that I could hold the Nexus with both hands and still have my thumbs free for a spot of zombie shooting in Dead Trigger. It looks fantastic too (if you like the sight of zombies dying, er again). You do end up wondering if the Nexus 7 is not only a threat to the iPad, but also the Nintendo 3DS or Playstation Vita. Yes, those are both superb games machines, but the games are comparatively expensive. Dead Trigger didn't cost a penny/dime.
Whilst many Nexus 7s will be bought for web-surfing and games, I imagine the big pull will be social networking and again, if all you're planning is a bit of Facebook and Twitter, you do have to start wondering if an iPad is overkill. Facebook and Twitter work great on Nexus 7. The screen is big enough and sharp enough to enjoy links, photos and videos shared by your friends and contacts and bashing in a status update is no problem with the on-screen keyboard.
It's not just social networking that raise the question of value. Books are also great. The Nexus 7 accurately matches a single side of your typical fiction and that means it's a relative pleasure to read ebooks on, especially given how it's so light. That's the Amazon Kindle under threat now too, although they won't mind too much if you use the Kindle app!
In my over-far-too-quickly hour with the Nexus 7, I concluded that if you want to consume a video (Transformers is free with every purchase at the moment and very pretty it looks too), read a book or post on a social network, you need to consider a Nexus. It's a fab gaming machine too and a full featured tablet, unlike the Kindle Fire, which is far more locked down to Amazon's wishes - but it's not the new forgone conclusion.
Whilst the interface is now much more polished and friendly, it's still not simplicity itself like the iPad. I could give the iPad to my Mum and she'd work it out herself in spite of avoiding computers like the plague. If I gave her a Nexus 7 I expect those avoidance tactics would be wheeled out again.
Whilst the Nexus 7 is more portable, a 10" retina screen allows for a few things. Firstly, it's bigger than the 3" difference might suggest and capable of far more detail. Second, it's better for editing and creation of content. I write my blog on the iPad, no PC involved. If I switched to a Nexus, I'd also switch back to a PC for the blog! The touchscreen keyboard also gets to be bigger on the iPad, with more screen left available to the app too as half the screen becomes a keyboard. 'Proper' typing is possible on an iPad keyboard, the Nexus 7 is more like a phone with one finger tapping feeling more natural.
I think the iPad remains the better 'sofa-surfer', particularly if you spend the kind of time on it that I do, but the Nexus is the better road warrior, slipping unnoticed into a bag, it'll amuse you just as much on the train or plane and it'll leave you enough money to upgrade your seat, so you'll be even more comfortable.
The Nexus 7 is going to sell by the truckload. This should also mean that more and more developers will start to support it and the Android platform. No matter whether you're a die-hard iPad fan, a staunch Android supporter, or uncertain customer, this introduction of some proper competition can only be a good thing.
As a gadget geek, I came away wishing I had both :)