Macworld 2010: iPad mockup hands-on

Mike Schramm
M. Schramm|02.15.10

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The other day at Macworld Expo 2010, we did a quick interview with Tim Hickman, CEO of Hard Candy Cases. During that interview, in which they showed off an already-made iPad case, I asked him how they knew what the iPad would be like. He said that they had heavily researched the dimensions, including stats from Apple's site, information from over 300 pictures of the keynote (in which they compared the iPad's dimensions to things like a wristwatch band), and even some not-quite-public plans from an unnamed Chinese manufacturer. With all of that information, they had actually simulated and constructed an "as-close-to-real-as-you-can-get" mockup of the iPad's size and form.

Then, on Saturday, the folks from Hard Candy Cases came back by the booth, and their VP of products, David Adam, said he'd actually brought the iPad mockup to the show, and asked if we would like to see and hold it. Considering that there wasn't actually a working iPad at Macworld this year, we of course gladly said yes. You can see what it looks like above, and hit the link below for our impressions of what it's like to finally hold and touch the closest thing to an iPad that money can buy.

The first thing that struck us on holding the iPad mockup, as Dave Caolo says in the video above, is the curvature on the back. It's much more curved than you'd realize just looking at photos -- there might be as much as a quarter-inch difference between the sides and the center of the back, which Adam pointed out made the iPad look thinner than the hardware inside it actually was. The curve makes the whole thing feel more like a book -- it's about the same size across as a novel with the cover folded over, or a small notepad, and the feel is about the same.

We also noticed that the icons were smaller than we'd expected -- the screengrab on the manufactured model was from a picture on Apple's website, Adam told us, and there was quite a bit of space in between each icon, both in the upper homescreen part, as well as the lower dock. The sides of the iPad are almost exactly as big as my thumb, which makes sense -- in the iPad panel earlier in the day, some folks who'd used the iPad suggested the bezel was designed to give you a grip from the front, something the back curve does as well. They also suggested that the homescreen would actually see a UI update before release, and looking at the size of the icons adds credence to that -- the icons are very spaced out as compared to the screen at large. They are still the size of a finger press, but there is a lot of what seems like wasted space in between.

The mockup was actually lighter (under 1 lb) than the real thing (1.5 lbs), so we can't talk much about how it actually feels to carry around. But we did find that the surface area seems somewhat small, at least in portrait mode, for a full keyboard. In landscape mode, our hands fit much better, but of course that's more screen real estate taken up. In terms of just viewing, however, I found that the screen size was more than adequate. Of course, filling a screen with spreadsheets or more complex apps might make it seem more cluttered, but the 10" screen definitely gave off a more expansive feel than using my iPhone.

The ports on the mockup are all in exactly the right places (headset jack and power buttons along the top, mute and volume controls on the side, and dock and speaker/mic on the bottom), because Hard Candy needs to make sure their cases won't block any openings. I thought the home button was surprisingly small, but on comparison, it's the same size as the iPhone's button, which just seems small on the bigger device.

Of course, we haven't actually tested the iPad's software, or gotten to see upscaled iPhone apps on the bigger screen. But just holding the exact form factor of Apple's tablet was enlightening -- I'm more sold than ever on its function as an ereader, and holding the actual screen size in my hands has convinced me that Apple did the right thing going with 4:3 for usage (though watching movies on it will still be an issue).

We still haven't held or seen the iPad, and very few people in the world outside of Apple have. But getting to hold and play with this almost exact physical reproduction definitely gave us a new appreciation for Apple's form design, and got us even more excited to see what they do with the software.
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