The iPad and Screen Evolution

I got to play with an iPad today for the first time.  It was beautiful.  I’m going to have a hard time keeping my resolution to not buy one before the second generation comes out.  I’ve been trying to find a carry around the house computer for years.  I tried a Kindle, iPod touch and a Toshiba netbook.  I sold my Kindle to a bookworm friend, and my other two devices just sit around losing battery charge.  I use each occasionally, but they have the wrong size screens.

I liked the Kindle for reading fiction, but I wanted something to read electronic magazines, RSS feeds and the Internet while reclined in my La-Z-Boy.  The iPod touch lets me read stuff the Kindle didn’t plus my Kindle fiction, but the screen is too small.  I installed several ebook reader programs on my netbook, but 10.1” landscape screen is all wrong.  Seeing the 9.7” inch portrait screen of the iPad today convinced me it was near perfect for electronic magazines, RSS feeds and Internet reading, and probably for fiction too.  It was heavier than I expected, and that might be a drawback.  But it was damn close to what I want.

The iPad should do a lot to eliminate paper, which is one of my environmental goals.  The iPad also well illustrates the role and purpose of the computer screen.  The small screen on the iPhone/iPod touch is perfect for carrying around all the time.  The interface is tuned to it’s 3.5” screen.  iPhone apps that aren’t rewritten for the 9.7” iPad screen will miss their mark.  Putting Windows 7 on a 10.1” netbook screen just isn’t right either.  Tiny desktop applications don’t cut it, they need to be redesigned to the screen real estate.

For example, Windows Media Center works great on my 52” television screen.  It’s an application designed to work on a TV screen with viewers across the room.  It doesn’t need a keyboard.   Using regular Windows apps on my big TV is clunky.  I can make browsing OK with IE 8 by using the Zoom magnification, so I can play music and read Engadget or Slashdot from the couch, but some pages like Pandora just doesn’t resize or work well on the big screen.

It would be damn cool if Pandora, Rhapsody and Lala all were rewritten to run inside of Windows Media Center.  In fact, it would be extremely neat if there was a version of IE for Windows Media Player so I could browse the web with just a clicker.  It would need a virtual keyboard like the iPad/iPhone, but that’s doable.

Back in the 1990s pundits started talking about digital convergence.  They expected TVs and computers to merge, and that’s rapidly happening, but I don’t think they planned for giant screen TVs.  Nor did they expect the convergence with telephones, GPSes and books, or even game machines.  Now it’s all a matter of fitting the task to the screen size:

Screen Size Device Best Use
1-2” MP3
  • Music
  • Audiobooks
  • Voice Recording
2-4” Phone
Camera
Video Cam
Portable Game
  • Smartphone
  • GPS
  • Photography
  • Videography
  • Games
5-6” Ebook
  • Fiction
9-11” Tablet
  • Nonfiction
  • Magazines
  • RSS feeds
  • Photos
  • Games
10-16” Netbook
Notebook
  • Work on the go
18-24” Desktop
  • Work at the desk
26-60” Television
  • TV
  • Movies
  • Music
  • Home video
  • Internet TV
> 60” Projector
  • Lectures
  • Education

You can watch video on all these screen sizes, and even use all of them with computer applications or games.  Telephone features like video conferencing, Skype and web cams have moved to the various screen sizes.  I think the iPad has been in development since before the advent of netbooks, and I bet Steve Jobs was sick to see them succeed because that 9-11” screen size was territory ripe for exploitation.  I tend to think tablets will win out in that form factor and 12-13” will become the ultimate netbook size for extreme road warriors who want to type on the go, while 16” will be the common size for notebooks.  I expect 24” to become the ultimate size for desktop machines, although I’ve discovered I like having two monitors at work, one in portrait and the other in landscape.

Now, is there room for a new form factor and unique applications?  I don’t know.  Will the future just be ones of refining these screen territories?  And will there be some repositioning of functions?  Do you need a smartphone if you carry around an iPad?  Would a dumb phone be good enough?  Some people like everything on one device, like an iPhone, but I prefer the right tool for the job.  The iPod Nano is perfect for audio books.  They are harder to use on the iPhone.  Time will tell how everything shakes out, but I think screen size will be the factor that will determine the ultimate use of each device.

JWH – 4/8/10

2 thoughts on “The iPad and Screen Evolution

  1. My new iPad is en route and should be here in the next couple of days. I do use my iTouch a lot and look forward to the larger size and additional features of the iPad. One of my co-workers already has one, so I got to check out the features. An eReader in color opens the door to so many new possibilities!

  2. For me, comics are the “killer ap” of an iPad-like device. but the restrictive software policies of aple make it unappealing. I’ll wait a couple of years for the more open knock-offs…

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