It’s a Small (Tablet) World After All

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Image courtesy of The Verge

Earlier today, Jeff Bezos took the stage at an Amazon event in Los Angeles to present the latest line-up of Kindle devices. And I have to say he did not fail to impress. His presentation of the first generation Kindle Fire was already very Apple-esque, and I think he topped it with today’s event.

Besides bringing new “paper-white” Kindle ebook readers starting at $69, Bezos also launched two new flagship Kindle Fire tablets –the Kindle Fire HD especially has a lot of amazing new features. Starting at $159 for the Kindle Fire and $199 for the Kindle Fire HD 7-inch model, the tablet market without doubt just got much more interesting.

One thing I find remarkable is that customers really seem to love smaller tablets. After the launch of the Google Nexus 7, I heard a lot of tech pundits say that they find it hard to go back to using their iPad. All of a sudden it seemed too big and too heavy. And that led, of course, to the rumors that Apple is going to launch a 7-inch version of the iPad later in October.

If you look at the recent developments in the touchscreen device sector, which essentially means smartphones and tablets, it seems as if both device types are working towards the middle when it comes to screen size. Samsung’s flagship phones, the Galaxy SII and SIII as well as the note feature far bigger screens than the iPhone and people seem to love them. Nokia’s new line of Lumia phones also features a bigger screen and from all that we know, the new iPhone will also have a bigger screen than the 4S.

On the other hand, tablets started with 10-inch screens, and all of a sudden the ones that really mean competition to the iPad are between 7-inch and 8.9-inch.

The golden size seems to be whether or not you can hold it comfortably in one hand. Amazon made sure that their new tablets are not only thin, but also light — and I bet an iPad feels like a brick in your hand compared to them.

So, what does this all mean for digital textbooks?

Remember when Kno announced their tablet with the premise that it needed to be as big as a regular textbook to make sense in education? The company argued that “size does matter to students” back in 2010, and presented not one but two 14-inch screens that were connected, like two pages of a regular physical textbook. Of course, we know that the Kno tablet never made it and that the company is now focused on creating digital textbooks, but how can you make a digital textbook work on half of the screen real estate?

The iPad, which is currently overtaking computer sales in schools, still has about 9.7 inches of screen share, and it seems to work quite well. But if more and more customers are adopting the 7-inch tablets, does this mean that we need dedicated tablets for schools, or do we find new ways of presenting textbook content on smaller screens?

I mean, the whole idea of BYOD is that students (parents) don’t need to invest in multiple devices anymore. On the other hand, the strong brand of the classic e-readers also shows that people are willing to buy dedicated devices if they are really, really good at one thing. And the e-book readers like the Kindle or Kobo are still best when it comes to reading.

So, we will possibly see the revival of a dedicated tablet for use in schools? It needs good storage for all the different textbooks a student needs, so probably around 32GB. But if you look at the price point the latest powerful tablets are sold today, it should be possible to create a device that works with digital textbooks and also offers the other basic functionalities like Internet connection, social features, etc. at a competitive price.

This brings me back to my article that Pearson (or any other big publisher) should build its own tablet based on the Amazon model. Make it really cheap — which means don’t earn your money on the device, but the content and services you sell through it. It seems to work pretty well for Jeff Bezos.

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