iPad 4:3 Screen - Bad for Movies, Good for Books and Web?


When Steve Jobs whipped out the iPad, the first thing I did was do a double-take on the screen's 4:3 aspect ratio. At 1024x763 it's what I used to have on my 2005 Windows XP CRT screen. It's wide. It's iPod "phatty" nano G3 [Wikipedia link] wide and that design only lasted 1 generation before Apple back-peddled to the long and slim. Apple used to default to 16:10, and the new iMac is 16:9, which is modern HDTV aspect ratio. (The iPhone and iPod touch are 3x2)

At 4x3 the iPad will require the same monstrous letterboxing on videos that old SD TVs required. (TUAW has a great post up on this). So what's the deal?

First, unlike a TV where you sit across the room and the screen fills a relatively small part of your field of vision, like the iPhone, the iPad will be held much closer. Even with monstrous letterboxing, the video will still fill a large part of your field of vision.

Of course, the iPad isn't only a video player. There are other forms of content to consume. For web browsing, even 16:10 sometimes feels too "short", and you need to scroll more than you like. For books, a narrow page may not be ideal, and with a two-page spread, those pages will seem squat, squarish.

Now don't get us wrong, if Apple added pixels and made it 16:10 (1280x800), TiPb wouldn't complain (they could pillarbox the books!). If they took pixels away to make it 16:9 (1024x576), it might lose part of that "big screen iPod touch" infamy. And it might lose functionality for anything other than video.

It's definitely a compromise, but is it a good one?

[Thanks Antony for bringing the counter-argument to our attention!]

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

iPad 4:3 Screen - Bad for Movies, Good for Books and Web?


Thats interesting. I caught that my self as well during the presentation. Well Apple has about 60 days to make modifications like you guys said.

First, unlike a TV where you sit across the room and the screen fills a relatively small part of your field of vision, like the iPhone, the iPad will be held much closer.

I've been trying to explain this to people ever since I got my iPhone. Viewing movies on small screens up close is no different than viewing movies on televisions (or even small theaters) from a distance — they're the same size.
"Whaaa.... I can't watch movies on such a small screen. How do I do it?"

"Umm... I don't know... with your eyes open, perhaps? You've lost me..." :roll:

This isn't an issue with iPad, either.

Imagine the iPad in an educational setting: A digital textbook is open, a system-wide note taking frame is open and there is also a mic adapter and on-screen control getting an audio recording of the teacher. That is potentially three panes or frames.
I think that making the tablet wider and shorter narrows the usable height. Turning it to vertical orientation would restrict side-by-side viewing of text and notes. Movies are great and all, but not EVERYTHING is best served in Panavision! ;-)

One thing that crossed my mind when I saw the 4:3 formatting is that perhaps this choice was to facilitate the onscreen keyboard. When my iPhone is typing in landscape mode, I only get a tiny sliver of a viewing window to see what it is I am typing. Having it 4:3 allows for a better typing experience. For me, I think I'd be typing more than watching movies, so this doesn't bother too much, but does seem backwards initially with the widescreen trend.

The iPad naturally begs for the killer app of iChat, except that it’s totally missing a front facing camera! A glaring omission and fatal flaw. To save $20 and “save” that feature so they can have something to introduce with the next iPad 2, they gimped this iPad. Instead of focusing on making this iPad as good as it can be, they got arrogant and too cocky, and think they can “save” a common feature to use as mileage on a future product.
No way I’ll get an iPad without the forward camera. Video chat is a feature EVERY CHEAP NETBOOK has, and I use it a lot on the road, it’s one of the two or three major things you get a Netbook for. It doesn’t even put any strain on the ATT network since they can easily make it WiFi only.
I wanted to buy one of these for my retired parents, and a lot of friends I know were thinking that too. Perfect gift for parents, it’s like a laptop that’s always on and ready to display pictures, internet, email and best of all, iChat with your relatives. But without the killer video app? There is just no good excuse for not having this, it’s incomprehensible. I will have to wait for iPad 2, this is just too glaring an omission and frankly insulting.

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That big ass bezel is more of an issue for me. Also no front cam sucks as well. Not to mention being tied to crappy memory resorce hog itunes as well.

Well, maybe the 4:3 ratio is the screen that attract people to buy. Anyway, to me, the ipad screen is just fit for me.

Thanks for sharing such a profound and informative article, I’m really savoring it. I actually had a couple of questions in relation to your post though. Do you think it will be feasible for me to make contact with you further to discuss it? Maybe setup a chat on e mail or an instant messanging application? If not, cheers anyhow and I'll continue to read and comment.