This week I’ve been giving some thought to Apple’s forthcoming tablet device. I was inspired by Andy Ihnatko’s recent post on what Apple’s tablet may or may not be. In it he says, “go get yourself a comic book, or any other rectangle that measures roughly 10” on the diagonal. Hold it as though you’re reading what’s on the surface…. Now imagine that you’ve been doing this experiment for four years and not four minutes.” Good idea!

So I created a prototype out of cardboard and a printed mockup, then I carried it around for the day. I went with my first instincts about what the dimensions of the device would be. I figured there would be a 1 inch border or frame around the display area so that you could grab it without touching the screen. I also figured there would be a home button, like on the iPhone, and that it might be situated in a position that would be center-bottom when in landscape mode. Here’s what I produced:

My nifty Apple Tablet prototype made from FedEx shipping boxes and an OmniGraffle mock.

As soon as I had the prototype in my hands (and the hands of others), I noticed a number of problems:

  • Typing would need to be done with the screen in portrait orientation if you were going to be able to type while holding the device (i.e. with your thumbs). The screen was just too wide for handheld typing in landscape. Even then, with the 1 inch frame around the display, it might be a stretch for those with smaller hands.
  • I handed it to a co-worker who quickly pointed out that the home button probably wouldn’t be in the center. He has big hands and could just reach the button while holding the tablet at the edges. People with smaller hands would almost certainly not be able to reach the button while both hands are grasping at the edges.
  • My prototype was too thin, about 1/4 of an inch, and this presented an interesting problem. When holding the tablet, my fingers were very close to my palms, dramatically reducing the freedom of motion my fingers would have if they were arranged in a more neutral position. Having recently speculated that the back of the Apple tablet might be used as a surface for gestures, it was clear that 1/4 inch was too thin for that to fly.

After carrying the tablet around for the better part of a day, I finally set it down next to my Moleskine notepad and noticed something interesting. The dimensions of the Moleskine were exactly the same as the faux 10.1″ diagonal display on my prototype. Of course! The Moleskine felt natural in my hand. The weight, the thickness and the dimensions were just right.

I quickly picked up the  Moleskine and imagined it as a tablet. My thumbs naturally rested on the sides of the device, not touching the display. At about 1/2 inch thick, my fingers weren’t so close to my palms when holding the device, so I was able to gesture more easily. Without the 1 inch frame around the display, I could very easily type while holding the device.

What does the new Apple Tablet look like? Look no further than your trusty Moleskine notebook. And while I’m at it, here’s some more speculation:

  • Its all display, from edge to edge, with no buttons on the face of it.
  • The back is gently curved, similar to the iPhone. The curve makes the tablet appear thinner, but provides the needed thickness to allow a more neutral position for fingers to perform gestures.
  • On the sides of the tablet are one button for power, two small openings for speakers, a SIM card slot and an iPod docking port.
  • There’s no home button. That will be covered by a gesture… let’s say, a four finger swipe across the display. The next generation of iPhone and iPod Touch will also eliminate the home button.
  • The on screen keyboard will be available in portrait only -or- there will be some fancy new gesture typing that can be done from the back of the device. The idea of setting this little beauty on the table in order to type on it is just not going to fly. It’ll slide around and get scratched! No, this device is meant to be held, coddled even!

Photo from Flickr user sd.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. At least until Apple announces what they really have up their sleeve at the end of this month.

What do you think? Will the Apple Tablet look like a Moleskine notebook or am I way off the mark?

More rampant speculation about the forthcoming tablet:

Gizmodo: “The ‘new plastic casing’ will be touch-sensitive, much like Apple’s Magic Mouse…”
This is actually referring to the next gen iPhone case, but I expect the tablet to use the same technology.