No clear winner in tablet screen size

No "model" tablet has emerged in the screen size and functionality race, notes an analyst, while another says larger displays are better for productivity, with smaller panels ideal for media consumption.

The tablet market is wide open for innovation with no single model defined as a winner yet in terms of screen size and functionality, said a Forrester Research analyst. Meanwhile, a Gartner analyst said 10-inch devices are great for productivity work, while smaller ones are best for media consumption.

In her blog entry, Sarah Rotman Epps, analyst at Forrester Research, said the tablet market is "growing all over the place". On one end, there are multifunctional PC-like devices such as the HP Slate 500. On the other end, there are media consumption tablets either with a narrow focus such as the Barnes & Noble NookColor e-reader device or broad-focus slates such as the Apple iPad.

For content creators, the strategy is to build content that can be adapted for both screen sizes and uses, she said. For example, when reformatting an iPad app for a 7-inch e-reader device, content producers should focus on delivering content relevant to the reading-focused device, such as book reviews, she said.

Bigger screens for productivity
While there is no single winning model, Gartner principal analyst Christian Heidarson believes the function of a tablet will follow its screen size.

Speaking at the 16th annual Gartner Asia-Pacific semiconductor roadshow early October, Heidarson said tablets with screen sizes 9 inches and above are "very useful" for productivity work as they offer a comfortable two-hand typing experience. Those with 7- to 9-inch screen sizes offer a "great compromise" between portability and a large screen, and are best used for media consumption and not for working on for hours, he added.

To stress his point on why larger screens are suited for productivity work, he said side-by-side application functions will help with productivity work on screens of 9 inches and above. However, for a 7-inch tablet, this will look like "two iPods sitting next to each other".

With the iPad currently leading the 10-inch market in both sales and touch-optimization technology, other slate makers can look to the 7-inch market to offer a "best-of-breed" device, he said.

According to Heidarson, the aim for device makers in this segment is to provide a better user experience than the iPad for specific functions, such as e-book reading, and not just a "me, too" device.

Since the Cupertino's tablet launch, other hardware makers have been following suit with their own slate devices. Dell already has a 5-inch device out in the market and is expected to debut a 7-inch tablet.

Research in Motion teased enterprise users with its BlackBerry companion tablet, the Playbook, while Korean manufacturer Samsung launched its 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab early September.

However, first week sales of the Galaxy Tab paled in comparison to iPad's pre-order figures even in Samsung's home country. According to a report at AllThingsDigital , Korea Telecom, which only began accepting pre-orders last Wednesday, has already sold 60,000 iPads, while the Galaxy Tab reached 25,000 units in its first week of sales.

Some companies have chosen not to battle Apple head-on in the slate market. Singapore device maker Creative, which recently announced 7- and 10-inch tablets, said its devices will not be direct competitors to the iPad.

Echoing Gartner's Heidarson, Joseph Lee, marketing manager of advanced multimedia group at Creative, said at a media event last week that both screen sizes offer different user experiences. He noted that the company's smaller-screen device delivers a better media consumption experience, such as for reading e-books, while the 10-inch is best employed as a gaming device.

Although Heidarson believes there is still hope for Apple competitors in the 7-inch arena, Apple CEO Steve Jobs was not so kind to competing tablets.

During the company's earnings call last month, Jobs reportedly said the new crop of slates running Google's Android operating system will be "dead on arrival" not only because of fragmentation issues, but also because of the small screen sizes.

According to reports, Job said that 7-inch devices should come with sandpaper so users can sand down their fingers to become one-quarter of their current size, as normal digits will not be able to accurately select icons on the smaller displays.