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Size Really Does Matter: The iPad Achieves What the iPod Can't

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February 02, 2010

Size Really Does Matter: The iPad Achieves What the iPod Can't

By Giovanni Calabro, VP of User Experience, Siteworx

The choice of name for Apple’s (News - Alert) new device is telling in that the only difference between their iPod and iPad product lines is a “descender.” Likewise the only difference in product design appears to be its physical size.

Everything else looks, feels, and works like an iPod/iPhone (News - Alert). So what’s the big deal?
Many are missing the evolutionary opportunity at hand. With the launch of the iPad, Apple is extending their mobile offering. If you’re thinking of mobile as a phone you’ve missed the mark. Think of mobile as a state of being and you’re much closer to understanding the real promise of the iPad. A logical place to start is to offer a product that achieves what their laptops and iPhones can’t handle. Start with the obvious… size.
About a year ago I purchased a book reader from the app store for a trip to Boston I was all ready to dig into The Hound of the Baskervilles (guilt from having dodged it in high school) and found myself getting angrier and angrier when experiencing the book on the iPhone. Content aside, reading on the phone was the equivalent of reading a novel on the back of a matchbook. I’m a very simple person. As I’m reading I like to see how much more of the book is left. It’s a positive, motivational reward. Unfortunately the thought would not escape me, “with fewer words on the ‘page’ I have about a thousand more ‘pages’ to read!” With the iPad, Apple is giving me a much more natural way to digest e-books. Full size.
But with that size advantage we run the risk of losing convenience and privacy. With the size of the iPad, I’m forced to make a very important decision, “Should I add one more device to the litany of crap I already carry with me?” The iPhone was wonderful because it cut my caravan of technology right down to one device. I thought,” Apple understands convenience.” While I think Apple’s intention is for business travelers to use an iPad in a similar fashion as a laptop, i.e., swapping out devices and keeping it light, I’m not sure if this will work. Business adoption will depend to a large extent on the strength and simplicity of iPad’s keyboard.
However, another sneaking suspicion is nagging at me. I’m not a fan of people looking at my screen while I travel. I have nothing to hide. Frankly I’m a bit boring. But I can still put on an air of greatness behind the white wall known as my laptop screen. “Is he curing cancer?” “Is he saving lives?” I know the thoughts running through your minds as you see me typing madly behind that screen. Yet the physical changes to the iPad will uncover the truth for all to see as it lays flat on the airplane tray. Just look down and you’ll see I’m actually a photo editor for my wife who insists on perfection when it comes to photos we post on Facebook (News - Alert). iPhones are small enough to conceal and laptops, well, staring at the screen is an unspoken “no-no”. But the iPad –I think it’s wide open.
Where does this get very interesting? Let’s put aside the screen size and its impact on interaction via touch. This alone will set a bar for future interactions (just ask any doctor who uses a tablet with a pen only to find the end result could have been achieved better with an Etch-N-Sketch.)
Location and media integration are the next innovations.
The iPad is a wonderful experiment in how users will work with a “keyboard-less” device, digest content, and ultimately depend on the device’s knowledge of their geographic location to interact. Consider this: will the extra screen space allow me to have a subway tracker in one corner of my iPad that tracks my location, while I read a book in the background? Will the design of the New York Times change to reflect more of a magazine display now that the experience supports it (I’m sure advertisers would love full “page” ads)? Will the operating system detect and change system options based on where I am: at work, at home, at a ballgame? Will all of this be a moot point until Apple unhitches its wagon from the tortured provider known as AT&T (News - Alert)? The iPad is opening an enormous world of possibilities. While, out the gate, I’m expecting it will be nothing but a large iPhone, I can foresee a complete change in user interaction patterns once the iPad gains traction. In the meantime, keep guessing what I’m typing behind my screen.

Giovanni Calabro is vice president of User Experience at Siteworx. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan

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