What Should The Perfect 7-Inch Tablet Feel Like?

The Big Thing in tablets is the tiny tablet — a thing that’s about 7 inches, give or take. So far, they’ve mostly felt like giant phones. But here’s what a 7-inch (or so) tablet should be like, according to some of the industry’s best interface designers.

One of the major mistakes of early smartphones and tablets was that they tried to shove a desktop mouse-and-keyboard interface onto smaller, touch-enabled screens. It does not work. So now, it’s generally agreed upon that each class of screen size needs its own interface: 3-5 inch phones, 10-inch tablets, desktop computers and TVs all have interfaces specifically designed for them (unless they are awful). But what about the 7-inch tablet? It’s not quite pocket-sized, but it’s smaller than a 10-inch slate. Should it feel like a big phone or a tiny tablet? Or something else entirely?

Liz Danzico, Chair of the School of Visual Arts MFA in Interation Design

There’s a lot of discussion about the technicalities of what is possible. Will it be the scaled up 3.5-inch experience or will it be the scaled down 9.7-inch experience? And I think what we’re seeing is, more and more, designers are trying to create experiences that can comfortably live in every space.

I’m almost more interested in the opposite question, what is the seven-inch tablet not good for? When the iPad first came out, people talked about it as a pure consumption device rather than a creation device, and I think, initially, the same thing is starting to happen with the newer seven-inch tablets. Things like drawing and writing, creating music, photo manipulation, the kinds of apps that allow you to do these finely detailed kind of things may not feel as intuitively right. It’s going to be a bigger challenge for the more finely tuned apps.

Neven Mrgan, designer/developer at Panic Inc.

A 7” tablet would call for some tweaking of the existing 10” UI, but probably not a complete rethinking of the design. The best approach might be to minimize or eliminate secondary elements, like source lists, preview panes, secondary toolbars, info sidebars, and so on. It’s funny how many existing iPad apps—many of which started out on the iPhone—struggle to fill the 10” canvas: Reminders, Remote, Tweetbot, Clock in iOS 6…

Slingbox on a Kindle Fire

Tom Hobbs, Teague Design

It’s essentially a problem with the way we have operating systems in general. The big problem for a long time is that people were trying to scale down desktop computers and put them on smaller form factors. And then we got the iPhone and that was specifically about phone UI, and that, basically, got scaled up to the iPad.

The key thing is to really get away from it being a phone, but at seven inches, you want it still to be a communication device. It’s going to be something that you carry with you, but you probably want to be interacting with it while you’re talking on the phone, or you’re having some sort of web conference. Ideally, you’d want multimobile usage, and that’s a problem on iOS currently. Moving between different types of interaction will be a lot more important.

Todd Parker, Partner at Filament Group

They’re very good book-readers. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time reading a book on the Nexus recently. It’s not quite as good for games but I think it’ll be better for information consumption. Reading magazines, reading books, reading websites. So we’re looking at our interfaces and saying, what’s the right density of information? Do we need to adjust our break points or our typography to make this feel more comfortable? How do we take advantage of this device? The adjustments are very small at the moment. We’ve just made a few tweaks here and there to make things fit a bit better or feel a bit better.

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