With Apps, Size Matters

by John Kirk   |   September 21st, 2012

Ben Bajarin has written an important article entitled: “Windows 8 Tablet Fragmentation and the App Dilemma“. I highly encourage you to follow the link and read. it.

His main thesis is so important that I’m re-stating it here in the hope that it will draw even more attention to his article and even more attention to this vital issue.

“(Apps) are specifically designed for the current … screen size. (E)verything is placed where it is for a reason.” ~ Ben Bajarin

There is a FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCE between an app designed for a smaller (3.5 to 7 inch) screen and an app designed for a 9.7 inch or larger tablet. The pundits don’t get this. Google doesn’t get this. Amazon may not get this. And Microsoft may be ignoring this fundamental truth because they simply have to. Let me explain.

The Pundits Don’t Get It

“And this size (7 inches) is useless unless you include sandpaper so users can sand their fingers down to a quarter of their size.” ~ Steve Jobs

This Steve Jobs quote baffles many tech observers. There are literally hundreds of thousands of useful apps availabe for our phones and our phones are much smaller than a 7 inch tablet. Why then would Steve Jobs say that apps on a 7 inch tablet are useless when apps on the much smaller phone are perfectly usable?

Steve Jobs wasn’t talking about EXPANDING 3.5 inch phone applications up to fit on a 7 inch screen. He was talking about SHRINKING 9.7 inch tablet applications down to fit on a 7 inch screen.

You can blow up a phone app and make it run adequately on a 7 inch screen but if you take an iPad app running on a 9.7 inch screen and shrink it down to run on a 7 inch screen (which is only 45% the area of a 9.7 inch screen) it will be virtually unusable. As Steve Jobs said, you would need to sandpaper your fingers down in order to make them thin enough to interact with the app’s interface.

Google Doesn’t Get It

“Nonsense,” the critics cry. “Phone apps work perfectly well on tablets. Even Google’s Andy Rubin says so.”

It’s true that he does say that. When the Nexus 7 was introduced, Andy Rubin made a point of saying that he was sticking with Google’s strategy of encouraging developers to write a single app for both phones and tablets. This same philosophy was reflected in one of his earlier quotes on the subject:

“I don’t think there should be apps specific to a tablet…if someone makes an ICS app it’s going to run on phones and it’s going to run on tablets.” ~ Andy Rubin

And there, ladies and gentlemen, is the exact reason why Android’s 10 inch tablet strategy lies in tatters and its partners tablet sales lie moribund. Google doesn’t get it.

Optimized apps matter.

iPad Developers Get It

There are 700,000 apps in the iOS App Store. 250,000 of them – one quarter of a million – are specifically tailored to run on the iPad.

Developers don’t develop tablet apps for their health and consumers don’t buy tablet apps for no reason. Some phone apps run adequately when blown up to fit on the iPad’s increased screen real estate. However, most phone apps are less than optimal. Some are virtually unusable.

If you want an optimal phone or tablet experience, you have to tailor the app to the device’s specific screen size.

Where Does This Leave Android?

Until Google changes its philosophy on tablet apps, its tablets will merely run oversized phone apps and they will never have any success with the larger screen sizes and they will never seriously compete with any platform that has tablet optimized apps.

Where Does This Leave Amazon?

Amazon just introduced larger sized tablets. As smart as Jeff Bezos is, I think that he’s about to find out that there is a huge difference between a 7 inch tablet that can run stretched out phone apps and a larger tablet that demands apps optimized for the increased screen size(s). Without knowing a thing about the new, larger, Kindle Fire devices, I will predict that the larger form sizes will fall flat because they don’t add much in the way of content viewing over that of a 7 inch tablet and their lack of apps devoted to their form factor means that apps won’t add much to their value either.

Where Does This Leave Microsoft?

“In essence (developers) are not simply shrinking or expanding their apps to work on smaller or larger screens, they are in essence creating new app experiences for those screen sizes.

…..

Windows 8 touch based hardware will be so fragmented in screen size that we will see touch based Windows 8 hardware ranging from 10” all the way up to 27. If developers feel the need to optimize their software for a screen that is anywhere from a half-inch and even a 2” difference, what will they do when they have 4, 5, or 6 different screen sizes to target in the Windows 8 touch hardware ecosystem?” ~ Ben Bajarin

Do you want to know the future of Microsoft’s tablet efforts? Then ask yourself: “How many apps are optimized for each of the various Windows RT and Windows 8 tablet form factors? If the answer is “a few” or “not many”, then that form factor is going to struggle.

And while Windows 8 tablets run both Metro and desktop apps, what is the point of owning a tablet if the tablet apps are missing in action and it only ends up only serving as a lessor substitute for a notebook? You’d be better off buying a notebook instead.

Conclusion

Apple’s iOS has 250,000 9.7 inch optimized apps.

– How many apps are optimized for the various Android large screen tablets?
– How many apps are optimized for the large screen Amazon Kindle Fire tablets?
– How many apps are optimized for the various Windows RT and 8 large screen tablets?

Do you want to know the future of tablets? One of the keys is optimized apps. If you don’t got ‘em, you don’t got no future.

Read Ben’s article and enjoy. Understanding his article is essential if you want to fathom the future of tablets.

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?
  • http://twitter.com/ZeeK_3 Zaheer Khuddoos

    Pretty much on point. MS’s one OS for all screens sizes and form factors just isn’t going to work. The one-size-fits-all approach that prior Windows versions had doesn’t work in the tablet market. I think MS might be ok if the majority of devs target the 11″ form factor of the Surface as it seems like other OEM’s are bringing tablets out at the same size. But the apps that will be optimized for 11″ won’t be so hot on larger desktop machines or smaller, pocketable 7″ tablets. It would have been cool if MS had forked Windows and created a metro-only OS for tablets and put stringent guidelines on the size of the screen that OEM’s could use (like 11″). At least then there would be a consistent UX across the devices instead of the clusterfuck of various sizes, metro and desktop modes, and RT and x86 versions. When you try to be all things to all people, you end up being nothing to nobody. MS will learn this the hard way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/THExREALxTACO Jeremy Taco Patterson

    Another amazingly well-written article. I have quickly adopted TechPinions as my go-to site for all things “Tech”!

    • http://twitter.com/ZeeK_3 Zaheer Khuddoos

      Same here, I love these articles. Great articles, great insight. This has quickly become on of my favorite tech sites.

      • FalKirk

        Your comment is much appreciated.

    • FalKirk

      Thank you for you kind words. My article was easier to write because it stood on the shoulders of Ben Bajarin’s fine article.

  • pawhite524

    Ditto, John, on the terrific article. With all that has been written about how apps are/are not going to work on the anticipated iPad Mini, from ‘it’ll work out” to the knee-jerk “doom and gloom naysayers” you and Ben are the 1st ones to address this for the 8.9″ Kindles and the MS Surface.

    Kudos to you both!

    And speaking of the anticipated iPad Mini, where are the rumors at lately? And where are the the “confirmed” pictures of the of the back, and the insides and the… you know, all that stuff that preceded the iPhone 5?

    Other than your excellent site inquiring about the pricing of the “confirmed” iPad Mini since the new iPod Touch pricing was presented last week hardly a word about it elsewhere. Kind of makes one go “Hmmmm…”

  • Abcdefg

    Great ending….”…you dont got no future”
    Double neg translation is you got a future!!!!