I’ve recently acquired my 7th mobile device in the last 12 months or so. I started out with a Nexus One, Points gave me a BlackBerry Bold 9000, picked up the HTC Desire Z, explored the ExoPC but didn’t like it. So I bought an Asus EEE Pad (EP 121) which I LOVE. Upgraded the BlackBerry Bold to a newer version and then recently picked up the HTC Flyer. The only other device I’d look to get this year is something with NFC. Truthfully, I hope to be done with mobile purchases this year. There were some lessons I learned over that time and the conclusion is that size matters when it comes to devices. OS matters as well bit to a lesser degree than size.
4 inches (aka the phone)
This is probably one of the more familiar form factors. It started with PDAs which evolved into smartphones. It is small enough to fit into a pocket and travels everywhere with me. It’s extremely versatile because of its size and the amount of computing power you can fit into that package these days.
At 4″, the screen is big enough to read things if you have at least a 6pt font and stripped away graphics to remove the clutter. However, given its small screen, reading a lot of text can be tedious at times. It doesn’t do well for managing information because in order to truly manage information, you often need other pieces of supporting data to do the job adequately. However, it is great for quick updates such as checking off tasks and creating reminder type notes.
Because of its constant availability, it’s usually where a lot of personal data is created and is likely the data master for this type of data. Some examples of this kind of data include information like credit card info, passwords, appointments and contact info. This is one device that you want extreme security with.
7 inches (aka the Playbook)
While there are many other 7″ device, I deem the Playbook to be the most prolific because they started this idea although the Samsung Galaxy Tab launched first. I remember hearing about the 7″ form factor and didn’t find myself interested in it until playing with the Samsung Galaxy Tab last year. It was naturally more phone then tablet and was surprisingly usable. It’s small enough to fit into the back of most of my jeans pockets bit has a large enough screen to read a lot of information efficiently. This makes the device quite portable but not portable to bring it every where with me like a phone. For instance, I can bring it with me to a meeting but not likely to bring it with me if I were stepping out with the guys for coffee, for instance.
Creating information on this form factor is a pleasure. I can opt to hold it with both hands and type or hold it in one hand and peck away at it. Two thumb typing (not to be confused by two hand typing) is actually quite great and ends up being the primary way I enter data. I like that I’m fast and have enough real estate on my screen to read and keep context of my data. This is also the average size for an e-book reader making it the natural device to do most of my reading from.
I like it because it’s versatile due to its size. I find myself using this device frequently whenever I think I’m going to consume information. This is the primary device I use when I’m not working or walking. So my main uses are at home, in transit to work or even travelling.
10 inches (aka the iPad)
I remember the fanfare that followed the launch of the iPad. It was yet another revolution for Apple. Yes, tablets have been around for almost 5 year’s at this point. Apple revolutionized the use of the device more than anything else.
The 10″ form factor is an awesome media consumption device. The screen is large enough where it’s often like reading a magazine. Watching movies on such a size is also quite the treat because it is large enough to see the important details. At 10″, most web pages will render legibly although just a little bit more dense than normal making it a very natural web driven device. One of the things that was recognized early is that an app created for a 4″ device doesn’t scale that well to a 10″ device. However, apps created for a 12″ device actually renders decently for a 10″ device.
Content creation for a 10″ device can be cumbersome that is similar to the 4″ device for portable information creation. It’s too long (and quickly becomes too heavy) for two thumbed content writing. It is actually quite comfortable to two-hand type on the device in portrait mode if you can place it down. However, in portrait mode, you quickly lose the real estate space for context which is personally quite important when considering content creation. You could attach a mouse and keyboard to the device but at that point, it is less functional than a desktop or laptop because of the small screen limitation. Although no hardware supports a digitizer today, I suspect using it as a pen input device would actually be a decent experience. The surface is large enough where you can write an adequate amount of information per screen on it.
This is an awesome form factor for travel and personal use. I like it for when I’m sitting around and want to peruse the internet but don’t really want to do a lot of work on it. Newer uses for it are as a cash register or sales tool which makes sense in a number of scenarios.
12 inches (aka the Asus EEE pad)
There are actually only a handful of devices in this form factor and none of them are particularly cheap. This is perhaps the original tablet form factor. The only OS so far available for it really is Microsoft Windows. You could put Ubuntu on it but even at Natty, Ubuntu is not ready for multi-touch use.
Like the 10″ device, it is an awesome media consumption device. If 10″ is nice, media on a 12″ is so much nicer. All web sites render like it should for this form factor. One thing to note though, a 12″ device as you’d expect would be the heaviest of all these form factors. So reading it would entail cradling the device on one arm and swiping screens with the other.
Content creation on a 12″ has many of the same challenges as the 10″ device. No one even thinks about two-thumb content creation on a 12″ device and you have the same challenges although it is slightly better with two-handed typing on a 12″ device. Writing on a 12″ device’s a joy. It is quite possible to hook up a mouse and keyboard to generate content on a 12″ device for an extended period of time.
The reality is that the 12″ device is often a full-blown notebook/laptop without a keyboard. So it has all of the hardware advantages and limitations of one. They often have powerful processors, gobs of RAM, lots of connectors and unfortunately also chew through battery. The power consumption is even more of an issue when the form factor limits the size of a battery that you can put on the device.
Hopefully if you’re looking for a new device or writing software for one, this helps with thinking about how form should factor into that decision making process