How 7-Inch Tablets Could Help Notebooks Make a Comeback

Ben Bajarin / September 19th, 2012

If you follow much of what I write you may be familiar with the solutions based thinking approach I frequently mention. The fundamental aspect of a solutions based approach to personal computing understands that multiple screens working seamlessly in conjunction together will equal personal computing. Personal computing does not mean a single personal computer any longer. In the post-PC era it means many personal computers working together in a whole.

I have used this philosophy when outlining how different screens in conjunction together pair well and equal a computing whole. For example when I wrote about the combination of desktops paired with tablets as a solution. I’ve even wrote about this with regards to 7″ tablets and their role with traditional notebooks–which is the focus of this column.

There is ample data surfacing from different parts of the industry to support the claim that the iPad has been disrupting traditional PC sales. This is true and it is happening for reasons which I outline here in my column on why I believe tablets are the future.

Yet there are segments of the market that still need and require a traditional notebook. To be entirely honest I am not sure which camp I am in yet, whether the tablet + desktop is the solution for me or 7″ tablet + notebook is the solution for me. Until I fully experience the latter the jury will be out.

This brings up a key point and it relates to how product segments mature. Traditional PCs are mature and consumers are so familiar with their needs, wants, and desires with traditional PCs that when they buy them do so extremely intentionally to meet the needs, wants, and desires they have established for themselves.

Tablets on the other hand are not a mature category yet with regards to the mass market and are therefore still maturing as a product segment. It will most likely take customers at least two generations of owning a tablet to fully establish their needs, wants, and desires for a tablet PC. This is where the 10″ v. 7″ tablet form factor will come into question.

If you are like me, upon using the iPad I began using my notebook less. Due to its size, convenience, battery life, robust and simple interface, etc., I found and still find the iPad to be extremely efficient in both my work flow and my non-work based personal computing tasks. Like fellow TIME columnist Harry McCracken, I reserve my notebook for specific tasks and use my iPad for everything else.

However, Harry and I, along with many others who find this solution suitable, may only represent one segment of the market. We are served with this solution but perhaps others will not be. This is where 7″ tablets will make the discussion that much more interesting.

Upon getting the Nexus 7, I set my iPad aside and committed to using it as my primary tablet. Upon doing so, I found that I pulled my notebook out quite a bit more than when I used my iPad as my primary tablet. This was not a surprise for me since I had already had an assumption that 7″ tablets were not general purpose computing devices like 10″ tablets but instead are better suited for media and entertainment only. I still believe this is the case and will remain the case. If you have experienced the Kindle Fire or Fire HD you will probably feel similar. None of the products I just mentioned took much time away from my notebook like the iPad does. But this did re-enforce a point that I feel is important. Which is that 7″ tablets will help to rejuvenate the notebook market. At least in terms of notebook upgrades.

Part of the reason tablets have been disrupting PC sales is because for many segments of the market there are more questions than answers around tablets. They are not sure yet how far a tablet can take them in terms of personal computing. Consumers need to experience tablets to fully come to a conclusion as to whether they can replace some or all of their computing needs and what other products they may need as a part of a solution. Some may conclude they still need a traditional PC some may not. But the question around tablets and the fact that we have heard from many notebook intenders that they are delaying the purchase of a notebook because they want a tablet only re-enforces this point.

Many consumers are in the market for a tablet but are not quite out of the market for notebooks. As the tablet market matures and consumers come to conclusions about a tablet and the role a touch based computer will play in their personal computing ecosystem, it will allow them to make more informed decisions on the solutions they require. For many of those who have put off buying a new notebook perhaps once they realize they want a 7″ tablet but still need a notebook, they will then decide to upgrade. That being said, Notebook refresh cycles will no longer be the same with tablets and smartphones taking over the 2 year average life cycle.

Although, I expect the next few years to be rough waters for Windows PC makers, I feel it is key that those who desire to continue making notebooks, develop a strategy for 7″ tablets.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio
  • pawhite524

    Attractively provocative article. As I read i realized I was making subtle head nods as I recalled being an early adopter to the netbook. I had a 7″ HP which I had for a month before giving it to a family member. Biggest reason why? I felt like I needed to bring my 15″ MacBook Pro with me to actually do anything on the computer!

    Next biggest reason why?- That 7″ screen got old really fast. Now if I could have used the 7″ screen as an e-reader I’d probably be happier. I have deduced the 7″ screen in netbook form was not the way to go because 10″ netbooks were the standard within a few months and the 7″ form factor was but a memory.

    Admittedly. 7″ tablets have a different purpose than the wishful thinking of the 7″ netbook but using one as I would my iPad has me thinking I’d be experiencing this much as you did.

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