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How Big Should a Tablet Computer Be?

16/11/2010

We are standing at the edge of the tablet explosion. Sure, the iPad has been out for a while now, but bear in mind, the competition – and there will be lots of competition – is just starting to mobilize. Will Apple own the market like they do now? The iPad could be the next Newton or it could be the iPod, it all remains to be seen. Either way the high-confidence prediction is that tablet computing is going to slice into computing in a big way.

At this point, I think a lot of people are kind of thinking how this impact is going to be felt and where, really. There have been articles saying that netbooks are going to feel the pinch but then there was this graphic that shows desktops are going to take the brunt. Once the true ulitlity of the tablet gets nailed down, then we will really see where the tablet will get it’s market.

One of the things up in the air right now is size. Is seven inches really big enough of a form factor for tablets? is 10 inches too big? It all comes down to what you’re going to use it for. Afterall, what will people be these things for?

I think most folks will be using tablets for surfing the web, checking email and whatever social media stuff they’re interested in. There will be power users, of course and they will hail mostly from the business world. They will want to do everything they can do with their laptops on the tablet. This shouldn’t be that hard when you tie it the cloud but it will require more horsepower than the average user. Thus, stratification begins.

The tricky part with all this is if you get it too small, the tablet gets pretty close to the size of a cellphone – a device people already have and use for these activities. What’s the point of carrying another thing around that’s only a little bit larger? Not to mention any item larger than a phone is uncomfortable at best in the average pocket but most times will be a little too large. Conversely, the item is just too small to carry on it’s own. It’ll have to go in another bag for carrying, but first in a case to prevent damage, not unlike a PSP.

On the other side of the coin, if you get the thing too large, it becomes unwieldy, and perhaps most importantly, the user tends to lose that feeling of privacy. A screen too large invites others to peep, or so it would seem.

Otherwise, a big screen means a big battery and a lot of weight as well, or not a lot of work time. The larger size might even require more two-handed holding, as the distributed weight presents itself. While a few more ounces doesn’t seem a lot on the package, it becomes a lot when someone has to statically support it for 20min or so.

A tablet is really designed to be in the hands. In my mind, it is to replace the spiral-bound notebook. The notebook is something that was built to be written-in, read-from, and even drawn in. The size provides a big enough surface for hands and fingers to operate on and record or modify thoughts. Being that drawing on-screen will be the principle method of input, a large surface is better.

The size of the paperback is best reserved for an e-reader device. I think most seven inch tablet makers are thinking of their devices as amped-up e-readers which is where this short-sighted size comes from. Sure, it is acceptable for browsing and light web things, but is it really acceptable? Is it that much different to warrant paying twice as much as your new phone for only a little more real estate?

Perhaps a lack of vision is really the issue? Today’s applications that run on tablets are, for the most part, regurgitations of smart phone applications. There just isn’t a lot of programs that take advantage of the tablet format, yet. When these start showing up in numbers, the larger format will seem more of the proper size.

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