iPad 2.0: A More Perfect iPad

PERFECT DIMENSIONS

Is there a perfect size for a hand-held tablet? Many of us consider Apple’s iPad to be the perfect size, or at least Apple does. The iPad was announced on January 27, 2010 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. In about six more months we can expect iPad 2.0 to be announced. I’m jumping the gun a bit, but here are my thoughts on what I think Apple should do to improve the iPad. First the dimensions need to change. The iPad’s physical specs are:

  • 9.56×7.47×0.5 inches
  • 242.8×189.7×13.4 mm
  • 1.5 pounds or 0.68 kg for the WiFi model
  • 1.6 pounds or 0.73 kg for the 3G model

The display is a 9.7-inch IPS TFT LCD with these physical specs:

  • 7.76×5.82 inches
  • 197.1×147.8 mm

That means the black border around the display is about 22.85 mm or 0.9 inch on the top and bottom and 20.95 mm or 0.825 inch on the left and right. I’m actually a bit surprised to find that these borders aren’t symmetric. These borders might make the iPad look less modern but there is a good purpose for them being there: we need space to hold the iPad without touching the multitouch display. I still can’t get over the asymmetry, but there is an opportunity here to carve 0.075 inch from the top and bottom to make room for a slightly larger and wider display, if needed.

Are the physical dimensions optimal for average hands? I don’t think so. The virtual keyboard is almost unusable, unless you have small hands. Unfortunately, I have average hands. In portrait mode I found it very difficult to thumb-type; it was a little too wide. In landscape mode it was too narrow to touch-type. The iPad should be little thinner in portrait and a little wider in landscape.

The iPad can also be lighter. It is 680 grams. The picture above is the bare rear case and sourced from iFixit. Just the aluminum back weighs 138 grams, that’s a little more than 20% of the total weight. I think you can make the design flat, like the iPhone 4. With a flattened back the thickness can probably be reduced from 13.4 mm to about 11 mm. A lot of the extra layered aluminum can be rid of saving a lot of weight. The iPad has a lot of room inside so space isn’t an issue. In my opinion I think the iPad can be squeezed down to about 600 grams or less. I’m sure a lot of folks will like that.

THE PERFECT DISPLAY

Is the display the right size? To answer this question I went snooping for standard paper and printed picture sizes. I wanted to find what sizes and dimensions we are used to when reading and looking at photos. I googled around for international standard paper sizes. The international standard is ISO 216, sourced from Wikipedia “Paper size“. The aspect ratio is 1:1.4142 (1:√2) in portrait. For all countries, except the US and Canada, the standard paper size is A4, which has a dimension of 210×297 mm. The whole world, except for the two mavericks, is used to looking at A4-sized printouts and letters. So that’s documents. What about standard picture sizes? There certainly are standards for printed picture sizes and interestingly they all seem to hover around the A4 document aspect ratio. Let’s have a look (standard name, size in cm, size in inch, aspect ratio):

  • 3R, 9×13, 3.5×5, 1.43
  • 4R, 10×15, 4×6, 1.5
  • 5R, 13×18, 5×7, 1.4
  • 6R, 15×20, 6×8, 1.33
  • 8R, 20×25, 8×10, 1.25

This was sourced from Wikipedia “Photo print sizes“. There are more, but I think you get the point: the photo print aspect ratio is very close to the aspect ratio of the standard paper size of A4. The closest to 1.4142 is the 3R size with 1.43 or 5R with 1.4.

Should a display have a similar aspect ratio as the standard paper size and some photo print standards? Well, yes! Only if the display is meant primarily to be used for viewing documents or photos, and not if you’re building a device primarily for viewing video content, which has transitioned from 4:3 (1.33, it did fit neatly with the others) to 16:9 (1.78). What should the primary focus be? The primary focus of the iPad is none; the iPad does a terrific job of getting out of the way and disappearing. The iPad was designed to have no focus at all.

The display with its dimensions was picked precisely because it needed to do everything, not perfectly, but well enough. I think the iPad’s 1.33 aspect ratio could be a little wider: watching HD content on it turns out to be a bit less than good-enough. SD fits perfectly, but who watches SD these days?

Putting all of this together, a more perfect iPad 2.0 would sport roughly a 10-inch display with a 1.4 aspect ratio. It is just a bit wider in landscape and a little skinnier in portrait than the current iPad and should be better at displaying all three media: documents, photographs, moving pictures while making it easier to touch-type with all ten fingers in landscape mode.

ABOUT TEN INCHES

Any company needs to leverage existing and future manufacturing infrastructure to secure enough supply and affordably. I recently wrote Chimei Innolux (CMI), Hitachi Displays Form Strategic Alliance To Manufacture 9.7-inch IPS LCD Panels For iPad Program and suggested that Apple may be developing a broad base of suppliers who can manufacture quality LCD panels for its popular but always in short supply iPad.

LCD manufacturers will be able to adjust the size a little from the 9.7-inch 4:3 LCD geared for the iPad. In the very near future LG Display (LGD), Samsung, Hitachi Displays and Chimei Innolux (CMI) will all be manufacturing displays for the iPad. It is also worth noting that Amazon chose 9.7 inches as the size for its larger Kindle DX (read Amazon Kindle DX & E Ink Pearl). The dimensions would be slightly different since the aspect ratio is 1.4 (versus 1.33 for the current iPad), but there will be many LCD manufacturers with enough capacity to build a slightly wider roughly 10-inch LCD.

IPS + PIXEL QI

I’ve been quite upfront about my preference for IPS LCDs, but for tablet applications like the iPad, I’m not so certain IPS alone is enough. In iPad IPS LCD versus Pixel Qi in Daylight, I refer to a video that shows an absolute clear Pixel Qi display in direct sunlight. On the other hand it is extremely difficult to make out anything on the iPad. Pixel Qi just started selling a 10.1-inch display using its amazing technology (read Pixel Qi 10.1-inch Netbook LCD Panel Available Now); the entire supply sold out within 24 hours. The best display for a portable tablet like the iPad would be to marry IPS with Pixel Qi’s amazing technology.

Most iPad users don’t read a whole lot. There’s just so many more fun stuff to do on the iPad than read a book filled with text. I do think people read books on the iPad but few adults do. A lot of kids read picture books on the iPad though. Magazine apps are great and so are newspapers with color. For those who really do like reading they are all but forced to go for one of the two Amazon Kindles. What if you could provide a display that could cater to both? There is a big opportunity to bridge the best of both worlds by incorporating Pixel Qi’s display technology. The 3qi has a power-sipping sunlight-readable mode for reading and a full-color mode for all the other more colorful stuff out of the sun. By bringing together IPS and Pixel Qi’s innovation you really do get the best of both worlds and end up having a display that’s much better than the one in the current iPad.

RESOLUTION

The current iPad sports a pathetic 1024×768 pixel format resulting in a resolution of 131.96 PPI. In light of Apple’s big pitch for the Retina Display in the iPhone 4 with a 326 PPI, the iPad isn’t even in the same level. I don’t think it is economically feasible to get to 326 PPI on a 9.7-inch LCD at the moment, but I do think it more than possible to do better than the current iPad. A Retina Display-equivalent 9.7-inch LCD would require a pixel format of about 2560×1920 keeping the aspect ratio close to 1.4. Is that technically possible? Probably. Does it make economic sense? Probably not. With the aforementioned aspect ratio of 1.4 and the size of about 10 inches a pixel format of 1680×1200 is doable. That translates into a resolution of 206.46 PPI. Not close to the limit of our vision of around 300 PPI at 12 inches (read Retina Display), but much better than the iPad’s anemic 131.96 PPI.

CONCLUSION

The iPad is not perfect. It is too heavy. It isn’t optimally sized for typing. The display isn’t the right aspect ratio for documents, photos and moving pictures. The display performance in direct sunlight is terrible. The resolution is anemic. All of these imperfections can be improved by flattening the overall design, like what Apple did with the iPhone 4, and with the incorporation of a 10-inch 1.4 aspect ratio IPS+Pixel Qi multitouch display with a pixel format of 1680×1200. While keeping everything else the same. Lastly, I would recommend adding a SD slot along with a USB port.