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Summary:

Between mock-ups and alleged leaked parts, you’d think we’d know what a smaller iPad would look like. But some of these ideas are off base showing a super slim bezel on the slate. Effective usability of 7-inch tablets requires a place to rest your thumb.

ipad-mini-mock-7

Given the sheer amount of alleged leaked parts and mock ups for an iPad Mini, you’d think we’d know everything there is to know about a product that technically doesn’t exist. But it’s all guesswork — sometimes educated guesswork — until Apple makes a product announcement. Still, I can’t understand why some would even think a small slate from Apple would have practically no bezel around the screen: My own experience with 7-inch slates tells me that you need at least some place to hold the device from the front.

Take a look at this mock-up from 9to5 Mac and you can begin to see the point: Without any real bezel next to the display to rest your thumbs, you can only hold such a device in one hand by grabbing it from behind:

If a smaller iPad had this little black space around the screen, the device would share a similar issue to that of its big brother: You couldn’t hold it easily in one hand for long. I say that because of the iPad’s size and weight; you can surely hold it in one hand, but that hand would tire faster than with a smaller and lighter tablet.

Looking at the iPhone in the mock-up, you’ll see very little bezel. But that’s OK. It works because the device isn’t very wide and therefore is easy to hold in one hand. That’s a benefit to the form factor in a small size. A 7- or 7.85-inch tablet doesn’t benefit from that design; in fact, it detracts from it in my experience.

I’m more in agreement with John Gruber’s assessment in that some bezel will be needed, although not as much as that on the iPad:

“Should not the iPad Mini fall somewhere in between? Not as close to the aspect ratio of its display as the iPad-as-we-know-it, but also not as far away from its display aspect ratio as the iPhone. You might need more thumb-rest room on the sides than you do on the iPhone, but not nearly as much as you do on the full-size iPad.”

When I look at the small slates in my house — Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 7, Galaxy Tab 7.7, Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Google’s Nexus 7 — they all “fit” well in hand due to the bezel. That bezel is smaller than the one found on the iPad, but much larger than found on phones. There’s just enough space to rest a thumb while holding any of these devices in hand: No more, no less.

And regardless of leaked part images or mockups, if Apple does release a small iPad, the company is sure to do the same: surround the screen with a bezel of a half-inch or so. Company executives have used the 7-inch slates and know what works in the design.

After all, who wants to hold a slate in one hand by holding it from the back across the entire width? That makes for good unboxing pictures, but not real world use. The alternative would be to use the device with two hands all the time, and at that point, you might as well go with the larger current iPad.

  1. Kevin,
    Besides obscuring the screen content somewhat, could the mythical iPad mini possibly have thin zones near the edges of the screen that do not react to touch from the palm of your hand holding it? This would be similar to how some laptops disable the trackpad while typing to reduce/eliminate spurious trackpad input.

    To reduce the obscuring of content, apps could reduce their width in “palm holding” mode to create a virtual bezel on that side of the screen.

    I don’t think any of this is likely.. it’s just fun to speculate sometimes.

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    1. Sure, that’s a possbility, Raj, but not one I see Apple using on a final product. It would require the potential for more panning in order to get at on screen elements in the “no touch zone” that’s not user friendly nor elegant; two aspects Apple is known for. Of course, we won’t know until (or if) Apple shows off a product, so you might be right. Who knows? ;)

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      1. They would only need panning if the app kept its original size (theoretically 1024×768). What if the app shrunk horizontally in virtual bezel mode to something like 1024×700 and rearranged its contents elegantly in the transition. Apps are already used to this in the transition from 1024×768 to 768×1024. This way there could be an asymmetric bezel depending on whether the user is right-handed or left-handed. No reason to have that dead space to accommodate everybody all the time. Let the device adjust to the user.

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        1. Good idea but I *think* too complex of a solution. Then again, Apple finds ways to make solutions like this seem “magical” so it could be. I do think the bezel will be asymmetric, just as it is in the Nexus 7, FWIW. Now…. will it be virtual or real? ;)

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      2. Might be resurrecting a dead thread here, but I just saw this post on engadget about a new apple patent that detects hand position:

        http://www.engadget.com/2012/09/06/apple-patent-method-detect-display-hand-position/

        This could feed into my crackpot theory about adjusting the display so that nothing is drawn underneath a hand that is gripping a very thin bezel..

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        1. Not such a crackpot theory after all, Raj! ;)

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  2. Bleh.. It looks awful

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  3. Gee,no ones complained about the iPod Touch thus far,including myself. You just….hold it and…use it. Simple??

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    1. Why would they? If it’s small enough to fit in one hand it doesn’t need a bezel. ;)

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  4. Only problem. Samsung has already patented the 1/2″ bevel feature! :-)

    Just kidding! Hope Apple cleans their clock–both in court and with the mini-iPad.

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  5. Thank you for this article. I have been tweeting about this problem all day yesterday but the mini/air bezelless train kept on going @gadheilweil

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  6. You would hold it the same way you do a Iphone

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  7. You simply don’t need that much bezel in a smaller lighter tablet because your fingers can support it easily without having to wrap it all around the back.The thumb doesn’t need that much space to get a good hold on it. I’ve been using my 7″ tablet that way ever since I got it and been wondering why the bezel is so thick when it doesn’t need that much room. I suspect the bezel is thick more because they need the room for the battery.

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    1. I’m going to agree to disagree on this one. ;) Maybe it’s just because I have smaller than average hands (or you have large hands) but having a singular way to hold a tablet — by the edges — isn’t really comfortable. Sure you can do it for a bit of time but if you consume any content on it for any length of time or you move around a bit, you end up “balancing” the tablet and not holding it. It’s not a natural feeling in my opinion. I’m not doubting it works for you — don’t misunderstand me — but I don’t think it’s optimal for the majority of users. I do agree that a bezel doesn’t need to be as thick on a smaller tablet – the Nexus 7 has an asymmetrical bezel — thinner on the sides — and it works well. I’d say it has about a half inch bezel at most, which is what I’d expect from a small Apple tablet.

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      1. Our concept iTransPhone design could be the answer. Check it out at iTransPhone.com

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  8. Come on, the issue of holding it without a bezel is easily solved by having a strap on the back that you can rotate. These already exist as cases, but could be integrated into the case itself.

    I would love a bezel-less tablet, or just have it on 1 short and 1 long side, not all 4.

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    1. A strap on the back? You’d wear it like a glove? I picture frat boys high-fiving each other with this sort of monstrosity strapped to their hands. Or housewives swatting flies.

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  9. Sorry Kevin, looks like you were off on this one. Apple unveiled the iPad mini and it’s exactly the way it looks in those renders.

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    1. Yup, I get ‘em wrong every once in a while – thanks!

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