No Market for 7-Inch Tablets? News Begs to Differ

I’m still asked on a daily basis why I prefer a 7-inch tablet over a larger sized device, such as the 8.9-inch G-Slate or 9.7-inch iPad 2 (s aapl). While personal preferences will vary, I enjoy the portability of my Samsung Galaxy Tab. It’s small enough to take anywhere, fits in a jacket or back pants pocket and offers an improved experience over smaller-screened smartphones. Others will disagree, and that’s okay. But for all of the “there’s no market for a 7-inch tablet” talk, I see plenty of recent activity in this space.

Gingerbread Is Baked for the Tab

Although I’m running an unofficial version of Froyo on my current Galaxy Tab, Samsung is now rolling out an official Gingerbread update to device in Italy. It’s a safe bet that other regions will see the same, although Samsung hasn’t published an update schedule. The 7-inch Galaxy Tab has voice calling capabilities in addition to 3G data, so regional-based carrier testing is likely required, which could slow the software rollout. Sadly, this update is reportedly for version 2.3.3 of Android, which isn’t the most recent version of Gingerbread.

My hope was to see the next Gingerbread version, 2.3.4, on the Tab as it brings video chat though Google Talk. Since the Galaxy Tab has a front-facing camera, that functionality would be a welcome addition to the device. My expectation is that the current 7-inch Tab won’t see additional major updates, at least not officially. All the new tablets arriving now pair Android 3.0 with more-powerful dual-core processors than the Tab. I suspect the same will officially hold true for Android Ice Cream Sandwich, a version of Android that will unify the platform for both smartphones and tablets when it arrives in the fourth quarter of this year.

Acer’s Small Honeycomb Slate Delayed?

One of the first companies out of the gate to announce a 7-inch Honeycomb tablet may be slowing up a bit. Amazon’s (S AMZN) U.K. page for the Acer Iconia Tab A100 originally displayed a May 14 launch date, but the Carrypad blog says Amazon now shows a June 30 date. In some sense, the tablet can’t technically be delayed if Acer didn’t officially announce a launch date to begin with, but folks hoping for the device sooner rather than later may have to wait a bit longer. I’ve reached out to contacts at Acer for an official statement and will update with a reply. Earlier this year, some blogs reported the device would launch by the end of April, so there’s clearly some confusion.

Regardless of the actual launch date, I’m looking forward to seeing how Honeycomb works on a smaller screen. Due to the application fragments supported in Android 3.0, optimized software should work well on either small or large tablets. Apps will switch to a list view when a carousel view won’t fit, for example. Performance-wise, the A100 should handle Honeycomb nicely, as it’s expected to be powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 2 (s nvda) dual-core processor.

Viewsonic Joins the Game

With a potential delay from Acer, the first 7-inch Honeycomb tablet may come from Viewsonic, according to PocketLint. The site reports Viewsonic will debut the ViewPad 7x at next month’s Computex show in Taipei. The company already makes a 7-inch slate in the ViewPad 7, but, like my Galaxy Tab, it runs the smartphone version of Google’s Android operating system.

Details on the new tablet are scarce and will likely become available at Computex, but PocketLint has some information: Android 3.0, dual-core processor, front- and rear-facing cameras, support for HSPA+ mobile broadband, HDMI support and a weight of 380 grams, making the device highly portable. HTC’s Flyer is likely to hit the market before the ViewPad 7x — the device can now be pre-ordered in Europe —  but the Flyer comes with the Gingerbread version of Android. HTC says Honeycomb will be available as a future update.

Best of Both Worlds?

While I wouldn’t expect these 7-inch devices to rival Apple’s iPad 2 in terms of sales, there’s a growing interest by manufacturers to keep advancing 7-inch slates. Adding voice capabilities to the devices can bring both the smartphone and the tablet experience in a single device. You wouldn’t want to hold one of these up to your head for a call, but Bluetooth headsets, as well as wired ones, work just fine for the 7-inch slates market that isn’t quite dead yet.