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The iPad Mini's Screen Conundrum

The iPad Mini's Screen Conundrum

Apple's rumored to be looking into building an iPad with a smaller, 7.85-inch screen. A cheaper tablet from Cupertino would be nice, but in order to make the app situation work, its screen proportions would have to match that of the existing iPad. However, a wider screen would make the smaller pad much more compelling.

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
10/20/11 5:00 AM PT

I've been thinking about tweener devices lately -- media devices bigger than an iPod touch but smaller than an iPad. This is mostly because of Amazon's Kindle Fire, which sports a wide 7-inch screen. Now, with the latest rumors coming out of Taiwan indicating Apple is looking over 7.85-inch screens, I'm more confused than ever.

These smaller form-factor iPads -- if Apple does indeed use a 7.85-inch screen to create such a device -- would immediately fly in the face of the disparaging comments Steve Jobs made about them a year or so ago. He basically said that a smaller screen is far less useful than the larger screen found on a current iPad, which utilizes 1024 by 768 pixels spread across the 9.7-inch (diagonal) display.

And yet -- get this -- these smaller iPad screens that Apple is rumored to be looking at would also sport the same 1024 by 768 pixel resolution. On the surface, this seems to mean that existing apps would run just fine on a smaller new iPad -- at least, they would be rendered just like they are on the bigger, existing iPads. No doubt some apps would have buttons or touch controls that would be physically smaller to touch, but at least they would likely have a good shot at running fine without major changes needed.

So that makes sense.

Except to me, it doesn't.

Why Is the Kindle Fire Cool?

To me, there's a reason the Kindle Fire is a cool device and potential major competitor to the iPad and iPod line: it has a more widescreen, rectangular format that seems superior for movie and book consumption. For a device that is primarily about media delivery, I really like the idea of a widescreen format.

Why?

I have a love-hate relationship with my iPad 2 screen. I'm irritated when I watch a movie and have those huge black bars of unused space at the top and bottom. Sure, I can zoom in and cut out the edges of the movies, and yes, I realize that at least I'm seeing the whole widescreen movie, but the psychological irritation lingers. When I'm immersed in another world, I don't want to be aware of what I'm holding in my hand.

As for books, the extra screen space is great, but can also be a little much for holding during long reading sessions. Smaller, with a widescreen turned vertically would be awesome.

Then again, when it comes to navigating and interacting with apps and documents, the current iPad screen is pretty darn useful.

Where Does This Leave Us?

On the one hand, the same old form factor reduced in size makes great sense from an app-transition standpoint, but from a media-consumption standpoint, which is where I believe a device of this size works best for consumers, a widescreen format is more desirable. So yeah, I'm scratching my head here. If these rumors are legit, I'm wondering what Apple is thinking.

Obviously the company has to consider other form factors, despite their current market-crushing dominance. For instance, iPads are great and all, but packing them around in retail, warehouse, or medical business situations isn't always so easy. A tweener iPad could really find its way into some wild areas of businesses all over the world, under roofs and out in the open.

And yet, consumers are Apple's sweet spot, always have been. Do I really want to pack around a little square that would just remind me that I have a baby iPad?

I hate to say it, but right now, not having one to hold in my hand, it seems a little stupid to me.

On the other hand, how about an iPod HD? Or iPod touch mega. Or whatever. Just forget the "pad" entirely, and suddenly I'm OK with a device that's not just a baby iPad. I know, I know, the vagaries of psychology. I warned you at the start I was confused.

Of course, I may be the wrong person entirely for this sort of device, and no doubt Apple knows it: I have a MacBook, an iPad 2, an iPhone 4, and an iPod touch. Do I, as a loyal Apple consumer, really need a 7-incher tablet? Probably not. But someone else might. Someone who already has an iPhone or iPod touch (the small, handy device) and a PC or MacBook Air (the large workhorse device) but balks at the iPad because it's not enough of either -- small and handy or powerful enough to work on day in and day out. Heck, it's entirely possible that I would personally be happier with a small iPad rather than juggle whether to use my MacBook or the iPad 2.

Last of all, it's possible that these concerns will all be mitigated by something even more important -- a way for Apple to produce a desirable product at a new price point. The Kindle Fire is a mind-blowing $199. Apple truly might need to have an entry-level tablet option available for price-sensitive shoppers. If Apple can narrow the gap from $499 for an iPad 2 to something closer to the Kindle Fire's $199, I'd spend a lot less time considering Amazon's new mobile world as a viable option.


MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at Gmail.com.


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