Tag Archives: ipad

Size Matters – Some thoughts on mobile form factor

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

ExoPC, here I come

Reading Tristan’s article on the iPad gave me the kick I needed to get going on my own blog entry regarding slates and tablet computers. I’ll start off with I’m neither an Apple hater or lover; just like Tristan, I like technology based on its merits and how it helps me. For me, I’m a huge fan of OS X for the desktop, Android for mobile and Linux for home servers for different reasons. For the tablet, I am really looking forward to the ExoPC that should be launching in just a few weeks barring any more production issues

I’m not exactly new to using tablets. I’ve had my Asus R1F for a while but due to a number of issues, I’ve abandoned it as my primary computer and opting instead for my 15″ Macbook Pro as my primary laptop. However, I have very fond and positive memories of my Asus R1F as a tablet. It had three shortcomings as a tablet. They were that it was heavy, the batteries didn’t last more than 2 hours and it had a bug where it couldn’t be unplugged otherwise the screen would try to keep switching modes rendering it pretty useless.

In the past few roles I’ve had, I find myself to be in fair amount of meetings where I’m often not by a computer. In order to manage my day, I typically carry around a paper notebook and a printed copy of my to do list from Toodledo daily. At the end of the day, I would have to transcribe the information from my notebook to my toodledo list. I purposely leave my notebook at work because it’d be a disaster if I didn’t have access to it during a working day. However, there are often times when I am contemplating certain issues and would love to have access to that information with me.

So why ExoPC?

[image from itechdiary]

Believe or not, I’m buying the ExoPC largely because it’s on Windows 7. There are a number of reasons why Windows 7. The first is handwriting support is native to the OS. If the usage is anything like it was on my Asus R1F, I know that it works really well. Native support of the function means that all apps will have this functionality as opposed to just some apps. I manage my day mostly with Microsoft Outlook. It’s not just the ability to access my mail and calendar but also how I am able to convert emails to tasks and calendar appointments. My whole GTD process is done mostly through Outlook. I plan to use either Evernote or One Note as my primary note taking tool. To be honest, I MUCH prefer One Note over Evernote as purely a note taking tool because of the way One Note allows me to organize my thoughts on information. However, Evernote gives me the ability to access my notes everywhere including the web. I’m able to access One Note anywhere that I can have access to One Note via Dropbox but very few computers have it installed. Other additional benefits that come out of being Windows 7 include that functions like dual display, Remote Desktop and even usage of tools such as Synergy are mature and quite well established already.

I am quite intrigued with the ExoPC UI. Creating new UIs that sit on top of Windows 7 is not new. Companies like HP have long done it to support their multi-touch screens to make it more user friendly. ExoPC is now doing something similar for something smaller and for a very different device. From the demo, it looks like the UI seems quite well thought out. I like that they were smart enough to realize that the default close button for Windows will likely be too small for someone’s hand so they created an additional button to handle it. I would have loved to have seen more usage of the ExoPC being intertwined with Windows 7.

Some peripheral benefits would be the ability to not have to print out many documents before meetings because I’d have them handy to begin with. I also like the idea of being able to jot down my notes on the paper and have access to what I wrote electronically. Given that it has a mini-HDMI, there won’t be many issues trying to display from it.

Another big reason why the ExoPC? It’s being built by a Canadian company and we all know how proud I am to be Canadian.

I am a bit mixed about having USB ports. While the idea that I don’t need special drivers or adapters to use peripherals is appealing, I can’t really foresee how often I’d hook up something else outside of a mouse and keyboard. I think most of my data would already be stored somewhere in the cloud via Dropbox or access to my file server at home. 

Why not the iPad or an Android tablet?

To understand why not the iPad or the Android, we’d have to go back in time. All the way back to Windows Mobile. While people often laugh at Windows Mobile, people forget that Windows Mobile overtook Palm as the dominant PDA OS. It crushed Palm within a very short period of time. It wasn’t until late last year when the iPhone actually surpassed the total number of iPhones out there. While Windows Mobile was vastly superior than the Palm (and in my opinion still a much better mobile OS than the iPhone), it was quickly dominated by the iPhone. What the iPhone did really well was to recognize that people use a small device very differently than a desktop. All Windows did was, for the most part, shrink Windows into a smaller OS to be used on a smaller device. Very little consideration was given to how people used it. Apple seems to have taken the same approach for the iPad. It’s invariably taken an OS for a really small device and plopped it to a larger device. Already, I cringe when I see my co-workers try to type on their iPad when they are taking notes over a long period of time in meetings.

Currently, both the iPad and Android face the same challenge. The difference is that Google recognizes that FroYo is not ideal for tablets; they hope to fix this in Gingerbread. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that it doesn’t work. Approximately 3.8 million people would say that it does. Although right now, there are very few alternatives to the iPad at the moment. As Tristan indicates in his blog, which I wholeheartedly agree, the iPad is great if you want to enter quick data, read books, play a few games and watch movies. For me, I need it to be able to also write notes, allow me to access information from multiple places, annotate existing information and access that annotation from other places as well.

So final caveat, I’ve never touched an ExoPC in my life. I’ve based a lot of my assumptions on videos as well as my previous experience using tablets in Windows 7. It’s also the reason why this is under my “Perfect-isimo” category which is more of a wish list type item. Hopefully the money I spent on the pre-order won’t go to waste.