iPad Mini: Smaller Tablets Not DOA After All

By | Aug 10, 2012

A couple of years ago, Steve Jobs famously declared that 7-inch tablets would be DOA (dead on arrival) in the marketplace. Now, by all reports, Apple will be releasing the iPad Mini, with a 7.85-inch screen. Was it a marketing head-fake?

The message for the IT community at midsize businesses is that the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend is also about BYOFF: Bring your own form factor. Mobile devices already come in a wide range of sizes, and the options are likely to grow. All of those options represent different trade-offs between ease of interaction and ease of handling. The first favors large devices; the latter favors small ones.

Sandpapering Your Fingers

A little less than two years ago, in October 2010, Jobs spoke at length about screen size for mobile devices. And, as Brooke Crothers notes at CNET, Jobs had nothing good to say about smaller tablets. He said that they would never really take off "unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one-quarter of the present size."

It has not worked out that way. The Kindle Fire has already shown that smaller tablets can be popular, and the Nexus 7 is reinforcing the point. And Apple itself is set to join the 7-inch parade with the iPad Mini. (Yes, it is closer to eight inches, but still a lot smaller than the standard iPad.)

And as Crothers points out, even when Jobs made his remarks, the iPhone had already shown that much smaller devices could have plenty of functionality and generate huge consumer demand.

One Size Does Not Fit All

For mobile devices, the choice of form factor--size, shape, weight, and similar considerations--is not a simple one. Our physical interaction with these devices is complex and personal. We fit them in pockets or, at least, in handbags. We hold them while using them, perhaps for extended periods and, perhaps, while doing other things.

(Moreover, mobile devices have not yet been around long enough for us to fully explore their possibilities. Though a comparison to traditional paper notebooks and notepads may be indicative.)

For IT managers at midsize firms, mobile form factors are significant for two distinct reasons. On the BYOD side, business apps may need to be configured to work effectively on different sizes of screen. Or, minimum screen sizes may need to be specified for some applications.

At the same time, we can expect to see growing use of mobile devices--sometimes company-issued--by workers in the field. And we are still learning what size devices are best suited to particular field applications.

The learning curve may be a long one, but at the end of it lies possibilities and applications we are still only beginning to see and grasp.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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