Size May Be the iPad Mini’s Downfall

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

[Update 11.24.12: I just had my first hands-on trial with the iPad Mini a few minutes ago. I was wrong! It is narrow enough to grasp in one hand with thumb hooked over one edge and fingertips over the other. Also, despite its much smaller size, the screen is surprisingly readable and viewable. My apologies to Apple and congrats on a beautiful design! -Jim]

The release date is just a couple of days away, and the rumors seem to be converging on an iPad mini that will be 8.4x 5.7 inches in size, smaller than the iPad’s 9.5×7.3. But not by much. To get a feel for the mini’s size, I created a rough model out of a flyer that I received in the U.S. Mail. It was thick enough to hold the shape that I cut, roughly the height and width of the mini.

At 5.7 wide, I couldn’t wrap my fingers around it, as I do the iPhone, which is only 2.3 wide. I systematically reduced the width until I could comfortably get my fingers around it – the thumb at one end, the fingertips at the other. The grippable width that I arrived at was 4.0. At this width, the 8.4 height became awkward. I sliced away at it until the whole seemed right. The finished height was 6.0. It’s roughly the size of a postcard and slightly smaller than a paperback.

I then drew a rectangle on one side to get an idea of the screen size. Using the iPhone as a model, I decided to leave a bezel at the top and bottom, with the bottom slightly larger than the top. I left a slim margin for the sides. The diagonal screen size turned out to be 6.0, roughly midway between the iPhone’s 4.0 and the mini’s 7.9.

My aim wasn’t to build a large iPhone. I think the iPhone has maxed out in terms of size. Any larger than its 4.9×2.3 and it would be too big. My target was a new iPad that met two criteria:

  1. It is grippable by the human hand when held in portrait or landscape.
  2. It has a screen that’s at least twice that of the iPhone.

I think my hand size is average. Not too big, not too small. I then shifted the cutout model to landscape position and placed the iPhone on it in portrait position. I found that the rectangle that I drew for the screen was approximately twice the width and a little longer than the height of the iPhone screen. Thus, both criteria were met.

The steps in creating a two-dimensional paper cutout of this grippable iPad, or iPad-GR, are simple and wouldn’t take more than a few minutes. Once built, you’ll realize that it’s actually quite big. In landscape, the screen size is about 4.6 wide, allowing it to function as an e-reader or web browser. For those accustomed to going online with the iPhone, the 4.6 width will appear huge. In portrait, the 3.75 width also seems huge.

I use both the iPhone and iPad extensively, and the idea of a smaller iPad that’s still too big to wrap my fingers around doesn’t make much sense. If I’m still going to cramp my fingers trying to hold it in one hand, then I may as well stay with the larger iPad. For me, there’s no real advantage to gain by switching to the mini. In fact, I’d end up with a smaller screen with no real relief for my aching fingers.

My guess is that the mini won’t replace the iPad. Thus, it’ll be, as Jobs predicted, a “tweener” – somewhere between the iPhone and iPad. As a tweener, I’m also guessing that size will be the critical factor, and the ultimate standard for size will be the human hand. If it’s not grippable, it won’t be a viable alternative or adjunct to the existing iPad.

The fact that we can build an iPad-GR, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that we should. Questions remain: Is there a need for it? How will it be used?

Frankly, I think there’s a huge need for a grippable iPad. Yes, the screen will be smaller than the mini’s, but the market is already saturated with smartphone users who will find the size comparatively large and, thus, very usable. With a high-res retina display and wireless connectivity to computer monitors and TVs, it could serve as a handheld computer with a monster display. With Windows 8, it could bridge the gap between not only computers and tablets but tablets and smartphones. Where a workable Windows 8 smartphone may be a stretch, the same can’t be said for a Windows 8 iPad-GR.

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