How a smaller iPad could still have a 9.7-inch screen

Apple could redesign the iPad so that it had a smaller footprint yet retain the 9.7-inch display that people love. It's all down to the bezel -- or lack thereof. Is this the smaller iPad that everyone is predicting?
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Contributing Writer

There's increasing speculation that Apple is planning to release a smaller iPad, dubbed the 'iPad mini.' Taking a closer look at the iPad 3, a smaller iPad could still sport a 9.7-inch screen.

The argument in favor of a smaller iPad is rather weak at best. The idea is that because Amazon and Google have a small tablet, Apple needs the same, despite there being no real evidence to suggest that there's anything more compelling about either the Kindle Fire or the Nexus 7 than the $199 price tag.

Yesterday, The New York Times published a piece which contained quotes by Leslie Grandy, a former Apple manager who is now a consultant and an adviser to start-up companies. According to Grandy, a smaller iPad could be "appealing to people who do not now carry their iPads with them because they are too large and heavy.

While a 7-inch device is too big for most pockets, Grandy said, it is a good size for women's purses. "I really do feel like this is the sweet spot for them."

But a 7-inch tablet is fraught with problems. Not only is the screen of such a size that it becomes tricky to develop a user interface that works -- because while you can scale the display down, you can't scale people's fingers down in the same way -- the content that we consume is designed for three different types of screen: full-sized desktop screens, tablets in the 9- to 10-inch range, and smartphones.

While Amazon has been able to take the Kindle Fire and make it the most popular Android tablet on the market, commanding a market share greater than 50 percent, it's likely that this is down to the price tag rather than a pent up demand for a tablets that are a bigger than a smartphone but smaller than an iPad. $199 is, after all, quite a leap away from the $399 of the iPad 2 or the $499 starting price of the iPad 3.

But if people do indeed want a tablet that's smaller than the current iPad, there's a way that Apple could reduce the overall footprint of the iPad without having to tinker in any way with the screen. In fact, it's so simple that I'm surprised that no one has suggested it before.

So how could this be done? Take a look at the current iPad:

Notice that thick bezel all around the screen? That bezel adds about 1.5-inches to the overall width and height of the iPad. While a bezel of some sorts is needed in order to make the iPad easier to handle, and to accommodate the Home button and camera, it doesn't need to take up the space that it currently does.

Reducing the size of the bezel would be one way to trim down the footprint of the tablet without affecting the screen size.

Is it plausible to cut down the size of the bezel? Sure it is. If the current crop if iPhone 5 rumors are true, then it is exactly how Apple plans to increase the screen on the iPhone 5 without dramatically altering the size and shape of the smartphone. Much of that bezel is down to legacy and the way that screen used to be manufactured. Screens can now be manufactured with a much smaller surround, meaning that the bezel can now be dropped.

This small design modification could allow Apple to deliver all the benefits at a 9.7-inch screen has to offer, but cut down the footprint of the device down dramatically.

A smaller iPad with no loss of screen size or functionality. It's a win-win situation.

Image source: Apple.

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