3.11.12. On iPad Sizes
With the launch of the iPad Mini, Apple's 7.9" iPad, there seems to be a lot of "this is the future of the iPad" or "this is the iPad we'll all use" comments in various reviews I've read. Without having used one, I'll say differently.

When the iPad was announced in January 2010, there seemed to be a lot of discussion about whether the iPad was a device for consumption or creation, and about whether it could be a suitable laptop replacement. Nearly 3 years into the iPad era, there seems to be a consensus that this device is suitable for creation and it can be a laptop replacement or alternative for many. It is also an absolutely terrific machine for consumption of both text and media, but I think that it's usefulness as a creativity machine has surprised many.

I believe this is strongest at the 10" side. I think that the iPad Mini will be a nice creative machine, but early reviews and indications seem to indicate that people are finding it most useful as a "pick up and read/search/view" machine. The Mini is something they can use while pacing around and talking on the phone. It's smaller and lighter, which some say "is exactly what we all want out of our devices" (while at the same time everyone is saying the iPhone remains too small and should be bigger, and the oddly sized Samsung Galaxy Note has a surprisingly good number of fans).

Personally, I want my iPhone to be the size that it is. It fits well in my pocket, where it spends a lot of its time. I can keep it in my pocket when laying on the couch or in bed for a mid afternoon weekend nap, and it does not bother me the way bulky old cell phones did in the past. But I fear that if it were any larger, it would feel uncomfortable like a Moleskine notebook. I think the iPhone is the perfect size.

Likewise, I think the iPad's full size is also perfect for me. Let me list the ways I use my iPad:

  • OmniFocus. As a developer, my work desktop has a lot of apps and windows open, and keeping on top of my best laid plans was mildly annoying until the iPad came along. I do my planning on the iMac, entering in things I need to do to get some piece of work done, and then use the iPad as a separate dedicated screen for keeping on top of that list and marking things off. For a while, I was actually using a laptop for this, as that separate, dedicated screen makes it easier to find and reference what needs to be done when there are so many noisy resources needing my attention on my main work machine.
  • Reading. I eat at my desk a lot, either with local take-out or sack lunches from home, and the iPad, mounted on my Compass iPad Stand, makes for terrific reading and is a good size for at-desk reading whether using Kindle, iBooks, InstaPaper, DC Comics, The Economist, or the web itself. I know the "mini" size is supposed to be better for reading, but the 10" iPad is great for its placement and distance on my desk at lunch time.
  • Twitter. A wonderful, horrible distraction that is just a couple of swipes away while I'm working.
  • Writing. I'm writing this on my iPad on a crowded but cozy CB2 metal desk in the kitchen area of my loft. The 10" size works great for writing with iA Writer, Blogsy, the built-in Notes app, etc. The not-much-smaller 7.9" is probably fine, but for me, I no longer need a MacBook Air now that I've finally added a selectively-used keyboard to my iPad. Laptop replacement? You bet. I'm not programming on it, but I know now that I could probably use this with apps like Diet Coda to get some work done from home needed, although I do have good full-computer fallbacks for that.
  • Music. There are some terrific music apps for the iPhone and iPad, and the good iPad ones are quite terrific. Again, I find the larger screen works well for those apps. Some apps like the Korg iElectribe come close to matching the physical size of the full Electribe machines. The iPad is not yet an indispensable piece of my music setup, but it's a fun and useful addition on occasion.
There is also a lot of heavy consumption use in the evening as an IMDB and Twitter lookup machine while watching movies or TV that could possibly be served just as well by the iPad Mini, but the occasional video consumption (Netflix, Hulu, iTunes movies, HBO Go) also seem like they're better suited to this larger screen.

So for me, this 10" iPad is just fine. All of this talk about how we'll all be using 7 to 8" tablets is like saying we'll all be using the 11" MacBook Air and no one will use the 13"; or that no one will use a 15" laptop when there is a 13" available; or that no one will use a 42" TV when there is a 32" available. It all depends on need, use, and budget. Or as Horace Dediu says, it depends on the job(s) for which you're hiring the device.

I have never seen so much pointless talk over a device taking on an additional size as with the launch of the iPad Mini. It's just another size. It's not the second coming of the iPad, nor is it the doom. In my mind, there's nothing that exciting about the iPad Mini at all. I'm not saying its a bad device, it's just what it is: a smaller iPad.

Wake me up when there's a 13" iPad and iOS finally grows support for intelligently dealing with different scales and dimensions.


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