One Slab to Rule Them All

The day I did not think I would see has come. Today I sold my iPad 3 (WiFi + LTE 16GB) in favor of my Nexus 7. I never did pick up my iPad again after purchasing the Nexus (and only handled my wife’s iPad to set up games and books for Toby to use, and he frankly doesn’t need my help). There are many ways in which the iPad is vastly superior to the Nexus, but in the end, the size and weight of the Nexus, factored with a screen that while inferior to the iPad-regular is miles ahead of the iPad mini, made it a surprisingly easy win. (See my previous posts on the Nexus 7 here and here.)
Niggles remain. I will miss the liquid-like smoothness of the iPad interface, as well as that gorgeous display, but not enough to choose it over this little gem. (And you know, a Retina iPad mini will exist eventually, I assume.) The app market for Android is still a shitshow, whereas it may be that there are as many great and powerful apps for this system as for iOS, boy, it sure doesn’t seem like it. Nonetheless, the Nexus 7, where it does not best the iPad, comes close enough, and in many ways that I’ve already written about, exceeds it. No regrets.

But I’m not wholly converted. I’d never want to leave the iOS ecosystem entirely, and I won’t have to, of course, as I retain my iPhone 5.

But here’s the bit that’s a new discovery for me since this change, and it’s one I did not really expect. Not only did I stop using my iPad once the Nexus 7 came into the picture, but I used my iPhone far less. Really, the reasons for this are quickly apparent. Obviously, when out and about or simply looking for a quick bit of information, the iPhone is the easy choice of the two devices. But now the Nexus not only fills in for the iPad in long-form reading and browsing, as well as writing and other work, but it’s small enough that it also suits a lot of the off-the-cuff, super-casual stuff that was once the exclusive provenance of the iPhone. In fact, most of the time I prefer to use the Nexus, if only because it’s a larger palate to work from or read on, but not so large as to be inconvenient or obtrusive. (It’s newness to me and this honeymoon period are also, no doubt, part of that.)

And what feeds into that, I think, is not just the Nexus 7’s larger size, but the fact the iPhone isn’t smaller than it is. This sounds a little counter-intuitive, I know, but bear with me. As you might know, the iPhone 5 was a big departure from previous models because it added a bit of height to the display, making it the first time the iPhone’s screen had ever gotten bigger. One of the things that was perfect about previous models of iPhone was that despite the fact that larger screens look cooler and are easier to read and work off of, the diminutive size of the classic iPhone screen meant that most folks could reach every spot on the display with their thumb, comfortably.

Now, I have pretty small hands for a guy, so this was something I really appreciated. The iPhone 5 changes this for me. Not everyone, but for me. As I noted in my first-impressions post about the phone, while I can just barely reach all the points on the screen with my thumb, it’s a stretch, and it often means repositioning the phone in my hand. A small thing, sure, but one you really, really notice when you’re just trying to make simple things happen like clicking a “back” button or what have you. If nothing else, it’s unfamiliar to me for any aspect of an iPhone to be physically uncomfortable. It almost makes me pine for my iPhone 4S, which remains a fantastic device, though appreciate the 5’s lightness, speed, and LTE connectivity enough to make it an upgrade worth the mild inconvenience to my thumbs.

John Gruber, on his podcast, speculated that Apple may very well have tested even a 5-inch or larger iPhone, but decided that if consumers had the choice between a 3.5/4 and a 5-inch phone, they’d always go for the 5, since it’s bigger, and Apple would rather you went for the phone size they think provides a better physical experience, the smaller one. So they make the choice for you. But it almost feels like with the size of the iPhone 5, they let other folks do a little more of the deciding for Apple, and I’m not so sure they should have.

I have no such expectations of thumb-access with a tablet, so when I pick up my Nexus 7, I know I’m going to have to use two hands to operate it. It doesn’t “fail” because that’s not what it’s trying to do. It instead exceeds expectations by being a tablet that is both powerful and very light and comfortable.

With the Nexus 7 encroaching now on territory once owned by the phone, it makes it pretty clear to me where this whole genre of computing is going, at least for many people. Take this anecdotal evidence and the growing popularity of 5-inch-plus phones (or “phablets”), and it sure looks like that for a lot of folks, and maybe me included, there will eventually be no reason to have both a phone and a tablet. Instead, you’ll have a 6 or 7-inch tablet with phone connectivity, either with a traditional carrier or through a service like Google Voice, which you’ll use mostly through headphones, and that’s it. No 10-inch slates for these folks, no pocketable phones, just one slab to rule them all. (Jason Howell on the TWiT network predicted as much for 2013, and his prophesying spurred me to this contemplation.)

This is a neat time, isn’t it? I know all this gadget-talk is very consumerist, as though I’m drunk on shiny objects, and perhaps I am, but I’m also sincerely enthusiastic about how this kind of technology is developing and what it can enable in me and others. It’s probably similar for you, too, if you’ve read this far. So, again: Neat, huh?

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7 thoughts on “One Slab to Rule Them All

  1. At the risk of sounding like the “Kids get off my lawn” guy, I just don’t understand the appeal of all these mobile devices. With just a desktop and a laptop in my house, I already waste way more time on the internet than is probably healthy for me or my marriage and family. My wife tells me all the time that she’s jealous of my desktop. Making it easier for me to feed my addiction — and on a tiny screen, to boot — seems like a terrible idea.
    If I want to do some writing away from home, I want to use an actual keyboard and see more than just the last few sentences I wrote, and I’ll bring my laptop. If I want to make a phone call, my six-year-old dumb phone works fine. If I want to play a game, I’d like a screen I can actually see and controls that let me do more than just point at things. If I want to be entertained or informed, I’ll bring a book — I’ve got stacks of them waiting for me, and it’s not like I read more than one at a time.
    Those of you who get so excited by all these gadgets — what do you actually use them for? Social media-izing? (Something else I’ve never seen the point of.) Movies and television shows? Do you all travel or commute a bunch and need something to pass the time? Are these “apps” I keep hearing people talk about really all that useful? And if you carry these things around with you everywhere, don’t they make it hard to stay in touch with the real world? I just don’t get it.
    Hmph. Pesky mammals. Clearly there’s no future with all that hair and placenta business. Hrumph Hrumph.

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    • Personally, my reasoning starts with the cell phone: I use my phone more when I’m out of the house than in it; when I need a cab, or am trying to get in touch with a friend I’m meeting. I bought the iPhone originally because I wanted a phone to fit into the Apple ecosystem, and trusted Apple to make a better GUI than the steaming piles of awful found on other phones at the time. Having the internet in those situations is even more helpful.
      Since then, It’s replaced all my other gadgets. I don’t need a separate music player. The camera is more convenient then a dedicated point-and-shoot, and decent quality for when I need it. It has the ability to take notes and sync to my computer and calendar like a PDA. I still use a dedicated GPS while driving, but since I rarely drive, the phone maps are used more. I can also play some great games on it, replacing a PSP or Gameboy (especially now that Square is releasing all their old RPGs for the iPhone).
      I also find that I use the phone for some of the unique apps now available. Checking the weather forecast, checking movie showtimes, buying tickets and bypassing the line. I used the Air Canada app this year to check in and display my boarding passes. I don’t really do the social app thing.
      That said, I actually don’t own either a laptop or a tablet. I’m considering getting an 11″ MacBook Air when Haswell ships, but what I really want is something more like a Windows 8 slate: a tablet with a touch screen that can run desktop apps if you plug in a keyboard and mouse (or better yet, a wacom-like stylus)

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    • I appreciate you letting us use your lawn.
      I understand, actually. I think it’s like anything one becomes interested in. Once you dip your toe in, you find there’s more to it. For most people, they get a gadget that helps them do what they need to do, and that’s it. Others are simply into the new-and-shiny, and I sympathize. But for me, it’s also learning about all the nuance and thought that goes into this whole industry. These are devices that essentially become extensions of our brains and identities, because of the social nets and the creativity tools and the sharing functionalities, etc. They also serve purposes of escapism and learning, so these relatively tiny objects become suddenly very powerful and mind-bogglingly useful. Given that, what are the choices a designer or manufacturer must make? What are the choices a consumer might make? It’s all, to me, fascinating.

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  2. Android Police and Lifehacker have Roundups and Hive Fives respectively that can point you in the direction of a lot of excellent Android apps. I understand you come from an iOS background, but if you’re accustomed to Android now, you’ll find that iOS ports are some of the lamest Android apps out there, and that there are worthwhile alternatives that aren’t as well known as the iOS market leaders. Also, Android assumes a constant connection to the cloud, so if you’ve got a WiFi only device, that can get pretty irritating.

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    • So far having a wifi-only device has not been a problem. I work from home, and I can tether from my LTE iPhone.
      But thanks for those tips. I am going to visit those sites right now.

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  3. I don’t know if I could give up all the real state of the big iPad for browsing the web and reading. Is it that granular? Is it possible there is a longer stationary use for the 10″ iPad and walking around tweeting and listening to music in a 7″? I don’t think I can be that granular and the 10″ iPad and its apps would always win out for me.

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    • I simply don’t make enough use of the 10″-optimized apps to justify it. I love Garageband and whatnot for iPad, but I use them so rarely, they don’t define what a tablet is for me, and Garageband on Mac is awesome (for example). My one out is that the wife has an iPad 3, and if I ever *required* one for said use, it’s available.
      And as I say, a Retina iPad mini changes everything.

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