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Device Sizes

There’s been blog chatter over this since Tim Bray posted his blog entry, and this is something I have had strong opinions about since the Newton, and even earlier (remember Steve Ciarcia’s lunchbox CP/M computer in Byte? It seems highly unlikely that anyone does).

We’re talking about portable devices, and I have my doubts that a 17″ laptop would count, just as an Osborne 1 or early Compaq didn’t really count, although people still lugged them around. It’s all about how you carry them – a portable device can’t take a hand out of action; that’s axiomatic. Which means that we can use shirt pockets/trouser pockets, which are roughly the same size, and correspond closely to a small purse for size. Everyone can be assumed to have one of these available to carry devices. The next size up is a suit jacket pocket or a pocket in cargo trousers, etc. I’m ignoring back pockets in jeans, as we still shouldn’t sit on computing devices, for more reasons than just fragility (as a certain sub on PC Pro should know). Once we cross that mark, you need a bag (or Scottevest) to carry any larger device, and that is less than optimal for portability.

So truly portable devices are iPhone size (I’ll naturally accept some of the slightly larger Androids in this capacity, although we could debate the exact ideal size). The original Newton MP100 was the largest that could (barely) be carried in a jacket pocket. These tablets are great, and anyone can carry one: but they are best controlled more like a remote than a keyboard. Jacket pockets are the province of 7″ tablets, like the Kindles. Both sizes are viable, and I can see situations where someone might pick both, or just one; not everyone wants voice comms, and a Bluetooth headset covers that adequately.

That’s it; end of story. Nothing else is portable in any meaningful sense.

The genuine iPad is semi-portable, at best. if you’ve ever seen someone talking into an iPad held to their ear, or filming with one, you’ll know that tablets really aren’t suitable for some things that they are theoretically capable of. It (10″ iPad) is still the best size for a tablet, because if fits the DynaBook spec perfectly, although the software falls a little short (go use Google, there’s a PDF of the original paper out there). When you read the document, you’ll see that DynaBook was a landscape device, 10″ diagonal as the optimal size, with a keyboard; the on-screen keyboard of the iPad doesn’t breach the spec, in my judgement, although one of the Logitech keyboard covers makes it much closer. It works to simulate two pages of a book in landscape orientation. Here’s the question: does anyone actually use an iPad in portrait orientation? Certainly I don’t, and very few of the apps I have written are even capable of displaying portrait mode.

So where 10“ iPads sit covers the small, semi portable slot perfectly well, exactly as it has always been sold, for people sitting on sofas or in armchairs. People who get steamed up about the various options don’t understand the market options, it’s as simple as that. A 7” iPad would be a new niche, much more of a pure content consumption device, as both the Amazon and Google tablets are intended.

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