"Why would I want it?" is the main question after Apple's announcement today (Oct. 23) of a 7.9-inch iPad mini tablet.
And it's a bigger question than after Apple events over the past few years, where the answer was obvious. Would I want a thinner iPhone with faster wireless? Sure, at least if I'm due for an upgrade from my carrier. How about an iPad with a better screen for the same price? Why not?
But what about a new form factor? Two years after Steve Jobs' statement that a 7-inch screen is "too small to express the software," Apple now says that a screen slightly larger than 7 inches is just fine. Starting at $329, the iPad mini costs two-thirds as much as the full-size iPad, which has a 9.7-inch screen (though people generally call it 10-inch). But it had better be much more than two-thirds as good to be worth even the lower price.
Product user experience expert Don Norman told TechNewsDaily that Steve Jobs' statement was "one of the stupidest quotes of all time, because Apple started with a small tablet. The only thing was that they called it the iPhone."
The co-founder of the Nielsen-Norman Group (and former vice president of Advanced Technology at Apple), Norman sees all tablets and smartphones mainly as devices on which users can enjoy media rather than create it. Assuming the mini would have a 7-inch screen, it would be "just the right size" for reading books as well as watching video, he said, pointing out the popularity of the media-centric, 7-inch Amazon Kindle.
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"To read a book on an iPhone is too small, but on [a 10-inch] iPad is too big," said Will Larche, an iOS app developer with personal finance site LearnVest. "The iPad is actually kind of heavy. People tend to use it with two hands or put it on their knee."
Both Norman and Larche said that the ability to hold an iPad mini in one hand would make it a lot more useful in many cases — a key benefit that Apple touted in its introduction of the product today. A smaller tablet is a lot easier to travel with, said Larche, because it fits better on an airplane tray table. Norman even thinks that the iPad mini will be more popular than the full-size one.
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But if that's the case, why not just get a Kindle? After all, it's cheaper — Kindle's price starts at $199 (and sometimes lower with special offers). Even if a small tablet is mostly used for reading and watching videos, people do want all the other features from time to time. "People do not want to stop what they are doing to go send an email [on a different device]," said Larche. The mini is a full-fledged tablet, able to do everything the 10-inch can.
Larche's one concern was that the mini might never have as many apps. But by giving the mini the same resolution as the first- and second-generation iPad (1024 by 768 pixels), Apple allows the more than 275,000 apps that work on the 10-inch iPad to work on the mini.
Norman questioned whether the exact same apps will be as easy to use on a small screen, however. "It's really convenient — except, yeah. It's a small screen. So you can't do some things," said Norman. "You want to rethink design, too. The smaller devices require much more consideration of target size," he said, referring to the size of a virtual button, for example. So it may not be a matter of just running the same apps and getting the same experience.
But app developers can make it work, he said. People will just pick the tablet size that works best for them — how it fits in their hands, how it fits in a bag while traveling.
"I think the average person will love this because they can choose," said Norman. "And some people will say 'I'll have all of them.'"
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