A Thinner iPad Does Not Make a Better iPad

I love reading rumors — the wishing/hoping/dreaming of what will be included in future gadgets fascinates me. Rumors give you a very clear idea of how far from reality certain people are and how in the “know” others are. The iPad and the iPhone are probably the two most rumored devices on the web, but one rumor about the iPad that has been making the rounds is starting to really bug me.

Rumors keep saying that the next version (iteration?) of the iPad will result in a thinner device. That rumor bugs me a lot.

Thin

Just because a device is thin doesn’t mean that it will be better. 1 Pick up your iPad right now and try to imagine what it would feel like if it were thinner. For me I think the iPad would become far to uncomfortable to hold. In fact I think the iPad should retain its thickness and try to shed a few ounces instead.

What makes the iPad feel large is not the thickness, or even the footprint, of the device: the fact that it weighs 1.5lbs is what makes the device feel large.

The iPhone

The original iPhone was 11.6 mm thick and the current iPhone 4 is only 9.3 mm thick. That is a massive reduction in your hand, and many people would like the iPhone to be even thinner. The problem: the thinner a handheld is device, the harder it is to comfortably hold said device in your hand.

Go grab your wallet: pull out a few credit cards (3-4 should work). Stack them on top of each other and just hold them. Now pick up your iPhone 4 (if you have one). Which feels better in your hand? If you have an original iPhone go grab that, compared to the iPhone 4 I still prefer the way that the original iPhone feels in my hand.

The curves of the original iPhone, coupled with the aluminum and the thickness, made it a joy to hold. I am not saying that the iPhone 4 doesn’t feel good in your hand — it just doesn’t feel as good as the original iPhone did.

MacBook Air

I love — love — the thinness of the MacBook Air, but if I had to choose between a thin laptop and a lighter laptop, I would choose the lighter one every time. Weight is far more important in laptops than the thickness is (to me). It just so happens that for the most part, thickness and weight go hand in hand.

One thing that I can tell you about the MacBook Air is that when you carry it — like you would carry a book at your side — you will be holding it so that the thicker side is resting in your palm. The front edge of the Air is just too thin to comfortably hold. Feels like it might sever your hand if you hold it with the front edge in your palm.

Back to the iPad

There are a lot more things than thinness and less weight that I want out of the iPad first; to name a few:

  • More RAM
  • Longer battery life
  • High resolution screen
  • Faster processor
  • FaceTime camera

With devices like the iPhone and iPad changing physical dimensions is way more involved than just ratcheting down the specs. If you change the overall thickest point by -1 mm then you have changed the entire curvature on the back of the iPad. In doing that small change you have also changed the entire way it fits and feels in the users hand.

I honestly believe that a thinner iPad will be much less comfortable to hold. Especially one with a flat back.

Flat

There is another rumor that has circled talking about another thin iPad that has a flat back instead of a curved back. This is the last thing I want to see in the iPad. When the iPhone went from the original to 3G models and then to the 4 the iPhone backs changed as well: flat with curved sides, curved back, flat angular surfaces. The first iPhone feels the best in your hand and the 3G models feel the smallest. The 4 is the smallest iPhone yet, but it harder feels like it.

This is what happens when you flatten out the back, the tactile response is completely changed.

There is one problem though: using the iPad on the flat surface without a case/stand of some sort is impossible because the back is not flat. A flat back would make it far easier to take notes, in say a meeting, then the curved back does. (That wobbling effect the iPad does when you try to type with it laid flat on a table is far from “fun”.)

So the question becomes: do you make the back flat so that people can create content on the device without a case or stand — or do you keep the curvature of the back to make the device a delight to hold?

I don’t know if a happy medium exists here.

A great example of this is the iPod touch — I am reluctant to mention it because I think it is the weight that is more impressive than the size — it too is massively thin and has a some what flat back and I don’t think it is more comfortable to hold than the iPhone is.

Bottom Line

To get at the heart of the matter: changing the thickness of a handheld device is not as simple as trying to make the case as small as possible. Changing the physical dimensions of the iPad in the slightest will result in a massive redesign in the shape and feel of the case.

The original iPhone was aluminum on the back, the 3G and 3GS (both the same size) were plastic on the back, the iPhone 4 is glass and metal. Each size change drastically changed the materials used to make the device — the same will hold true for the iPad. You are fooling yourself if you think Apple will release an iPad of a different size that looks the same as the original iPad.

If someone says the iPad is just going to get a bigger battery and be a little thinner then you need to be asking yourself how in the hell they are going to make it thinner. That, and you need to ask yourself if it really makes sense to the make the device thinner.

Is Apple focused on making the iPad 2 a very thin svelte version of the original? Or, like with the iPhone is Apple focused on making the internal hardware specs the best they can and only when they are able to are they going to make it thinner?

I think the internal hardware will change on the iPad — I don’t think that the external hardware will necessarily be thinner. I think a lighter iPad addresses far more complaints that a thinner iPad would. I have never heard someone pick up an iPad and say: “Wow this thing is thick.” I have heard many pick up an iPad and say: “Wow this is kind of heavy.”

It just seems too soon to be worrying about a very good form factor when there are so many other obvious upgrades to be done. Other hardware manufacturers have yet to even come close to matching the form factor of the iPad — they can’t even make a tablet bigger than seven inches it would seem.

Yes — Apple wants the best physical experience, but do they need it before they need to upgrade the internal hardware specs?

  1. I realize how stupid this sounds coming from the guy who praises the thinness of the MacBook Air — hang with me for a second.
Originally posted for members on: December 28, 2010
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