January 31, 2013
Small Tablets Are Further Atomizing Ubiquitous Computing

been enjoying my iPad Mini for a couple months month now.  I thought
seriously about getting a Nexus 7 (in fact gave one to my sister as a
gift recently), but because I’m frequently on the go with intermittent
WiFi I got the Mini which is still one of the few LTE-enabled 7 inch
tablets currently on the market.

As my partners & I have written about constantly, we think “mobile” is a terribly misleading term for what is a broad megatrend of ubiquitous computing.
 More people are computing more of the time with a broader array of
personal devices, not simply a substitution of “mobile” computing for
“desktop” computing.  And now having lived with my iPad Mini for awhile
it’s clear to me that 7 inch or other small tablets are further
atomizing the overall world of ubiquitous computing.

Just as usage patterns between smartphones and the original
generation of 11″ tablets (led by the iPad of course) are pretty
different, and usage between Android and iOS devices varies significantly,
I see 7″ tablets being used in different ways and potentially by
different people than 11″ tablets or smartphones.  So what are the

  1. Not A Laptop Replacement – I’m skeptical that tablets will
    completely replace a primary “computer” (laptop or desktop at home,
     workplace, and/or school) for many consumers in the foreseeable future.
     But for a meaningful swath of consumers, a large 11″ tablet can be a
    substitute for a decent chunk of the activities they used to do with a
    laptop or other primary computer.  In the business world you see some
    folks that used to bring a laptop to meetings now come with tablets.  In
    my own family, my wife now basically does all her computing at home
    using an 11″ tablet rather than her personal laptop.  But a 7″ tablet is
    marginally harder to use than a large tablet, so you’ll see them used
    less frequently in these laptop replacement scenarios.
  2. Better On The Go Device - For many of the same reasons a
    large tablet is better as a laptop replacement, a small tablet is better
    as an on the go device.  It’ll fit in a purse or a jacket pocket
    whereas an 11″ tablet won’t, making small tablets the kind of thing you
    use to consume content, do basic communication (e.g. quick emails), etc.
     For example, I find my iPad Mini to be a far superior e-reader than a
    full-sized tablet since the size and weight make it easy to hold with
    one hand.  Smartphones are nearly ubiquitous (passed 50% US penetration at end of 2012),
    but many consumers don’t want to use them for more than brief sessions
    lasting <5 min.  A small tablet on the other hand is convenient and
    useful for a much longer (e.g. 10-30 min) sessions, so even though you
    won’t carry it everywhere like a phone people will use small tablets a
    lot on the go (e.g. the coffee shop, mass transit, quick meeting or
    waiting period scenarios).  Several people have told me in recent weeks
    they carry their iPad Mini or Nexus 7 or Galaxy Note similar small
    tablet wherever they go.
  3. Low Cost = Broader Entry Point - We’re >5 years into the
    smartphone adoption cycle (more than that if you want to count
    Blackberries and Treos) and barely 2 years into the tablet adoption
    cycle.  Prices for all tablets will continue to come down over time, but
    certainly for the next several years 7″ tablets will be several hundred
    dollars cheaper than large tablets and will therefore be a tablet
    “entry point” for a broader swath of consumers.  A significant majority
    of consumers in the US do not have a tablet today, and I believe that by
    the time we reach >50% penetration of tablets overall, ~7″ tablets
    could be as much as half the market despite being manufactured and sold
    for less time than large tablets.

So small tablets are expanding the trend of ubiquitous computing and
also will drive higher tablet penetration.  They’re simultaneously
atomizing the “mobile” ecosystem.  Developers already have to think
about smartphones and tablets distinctly just as they think about
platforms (iOS, Android, etc) distinctly.  A bad ecosystem outcome is if
small tablets create yet another class of experience that software
developers have to consider.  It’s something I’ve been pondering as I
think about the broader shifts that are going to happen at an OS and
core app level (mobile browser, etc) in the next 0-5 years.


Lee Hower is a Partner & Co-Founder with NextView Ventures.  You can find this blog post, as well as additional content on his blog called AgileVC.  You can also follow Lee (@leehower) on Twitter by clicking here.