The careful fragmentation of iOS

There’s a lot of musing flying around on the net about a 7 inch iPad tablet.  Now I’ve been pretty wrong in the past about Apple and their products.  I was on the “Apple won’t make a Tablet computer” side, and I bet against a retina iPad (I didn’t think the profit margin was in there for Apple at that size).  So when it comes to weighing in on the existence 7 inch iPad, I think I’m going to sit this one out.


But it got me thinking bout the original iPad.  At the time Apple launched the iPad, the App Store was already a  huge success.  There were hundreds of thousands of very polished, high profile apps, all built around a 3:2 screen ratio.  So when the iPad rolled around, many people were put off by the 4:3 ratio that a 1024X768 display brings.


A few weeks ago, a story was going around that all laptops were set at 70 degrees to make customers play with them.  Weather or not this is bullshit, it does raise a kind of interesting bit of customer psychology.  If you have to invest a bit of time configuring a device, you embrace it, personalize it and perhaps love it.


Back to the iPad with it’s 1024X768 4:3 display.  I had been working in 480X320 since 2007 and suddenly there’s a new size to play with.  But Apple could of easily made the iPad a 960X640 display.  Doing so would of guaranteed all iPhone apps would fit perfect onto the device, with no compromise (ignoring image asset sizes).


But instead Apple changed the entire display.  I’m sure there are countless reasons, from supply chain down to Steve liked a particular size.  But something really magical happened when developers got their hands on iPads.  They were forced to adjust their programs to this new size.  Just like a customer adjusting the angle of a MacBook in the Apple Store, developers had to change some things around, and in turn embrace, personalize and of course love the iPad.


This is why, despite the iPad being fragmentation in the ecosystem, was a good thing for developers and customers (and of course Apple).


We’ve seen fragmentation all over the place in Android.  And what happens every time is, some hardware vendor slaps some crap together, and then forces Android and a bunch of apps to work within this cramped space.  Imagine walking into a Best Buy and finding the Laptops secured with restraining bolts and bars that kept the screens locked at 70degrees with no way for customers to adjust them.  The Nexus7 is getting a lot of attention and it sounds like, for the most part it’s a pretty good device (for an Android device).  It’s kind of clear what happened to create a decent Android device.  The Google software engineers got their hands on a new bit of hardware and invested the time to get to know it, and embraced it.  Will customers embrace it?  If developers do, the customers will follow.


Now back to the theoretical 7inch iPad.  We’ve got two screen ratios in the wild, a 4:3 and a 3:2.  If the 7inch is one of those ratios, then that’s the kind of apps we will get.  Either compact iPhone apps, or more sprawling iPad apps.


But what about the missing ratio?  16:9.  We get movies and TV shows in the aspect already.  It’s not a stretch to make games at this resolution.  And if we go to a 16:9 aspect ratio, developers will once again have to invest time in configuring their apps for the device.  Is very careful fragmentation the key to a successful new product launch?

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