With the smaller iPad rumors looking as sure of a thing as an Apple rumor gets, the tech bloggers have started a fierce debate going about what the exact size, design, and screen resolution should be. Since reputable places like The Wall Street Journal , The New York Times, and Bloomberg all have unnamed sources saying we will see a 7.85-inch tablet, the techies have latched onto this bit of pretty solid, if unconfirmed, information and have now found themselves arguing over what the thing should look like. Daring Fireball's Jonathan Gruber has a 2,000+ word piece with math and footnotes included that settles on a thin iPad Air idea. Gizmodo paid an artist to mock-up what it thinks the new offering will look like: just a smaller iPad. And then we have 9to5Mac's suggestion that it will look like a big iPod Touch. (Mock-up above.) All this blogging isn't just for blogs sake, though. The exact measurements of the device, from a user perspective, do matter. The way it ends up looking will determine how it feels to use it. And, as Apple has proven before, that kind of stuff impresses consumers.
iPads have different uses than iPhones and iPod touches. We don't sit in bed and hold an iPhone to read a whole book or watch an entire show, as we do with the iPad. That's why everyone is all talking about the bezel to screen ratio -- we need something to hold on to while we tablet. Unlike a phone which we can clutch at the sides while texting or talking or gaming. The problem with a big iPod touch, which has a thinner bezel, for example, means that we have to be careful where we put our fingers. "The lack of bezel on the side will not allow you to carry it like you hold a full-size iPad when in portrait mode without triggering some multi-touch on the display," explains 9to5Mac's Seth Weintraub. Though, Gruber argues we won't need as much thumb-rest room for a smaller screen. The other possibility, of course, is to have a shrunken down iPad, which gives plenty of room for thumbs. But, then it loses its mini-ness. As evidenced by competitors like Google and Amazon, people like the smaller size for portability.
Though, if Apple is going through the trouble of making a smaller iPad, it has some implications for how it feels. A smaller iPad makes it easier to lug around. But, the rumorers have also pointed out that the new iPad will probably a lot lighter as well as smaller. "I’m thinking thickness and weight. The iPad 3 gained a retina display — but at the expense of getting thicker and heavier than the iPad 2, so as to fit a more powerful battery to run those additional 2,359,296 pixels. So I’m thinking the iPad Mini doesn’t get a retina display but in exchange gets to go remarkably thin," writes Gruber. That will make it easier to hold for a long time. But, it will also make it easier to hold it from the back, meaning we won't have to wrap our fingers around to clutch the bezel. See above.
Jobs had said previously that this smaller size wouldn't accommodate apps in a way he liked. Things need to be easy to tap, for example. Smaller things are harder to tap. Apple could recommend a 44 point or larger tap target -- the size it uses for the little iPhone -- for iPad apps, as well, as Joel Bernstein argues over Cast Irony to compromise. He points out the very small margins with which tapping will get harder and more error filled. Yet, it's still a compromise.
Really, all this speculation is to figure out how Apple will do it again. Jobs disapproved of the smaller machine because it couldn't obtain his design perfection. Users are used to (and pay up for) a level of usability from Apple products. If we're going to get the smaller iPad Steve Jobs never wanted, these bloggers just want us to know what the user trade-offs are.