7″ iPad

I continue to see rumors that Apple will release a 7-inch iPad. The idea is that it would be closer in size to a paperback or Kindle; lighter and less expensive than the current iPad; and easier to fit in a purse.

I’m a bit scared of this vision because it means all of our apps would have to be redesigned for yet another screen size. iPhone apps already do run on the iPad, but they are awkward to use. Scaled-down iPad apps are not really an option because the touch targets would be too small. Apple could use a screen with the same number of pixels as the iPhone 4 (but bigger in size); that way, all retina-display-compatible apps would fit pixel-by-pixel on the device. Still, graphics would look too big and some interactions would still be awkward. In short, redesigning our apps would be necessary for a good user experience.

This redesign will be a lot easier than porting apps from the Mac to the iPad. Still, for the sake of my own sanity, I hope Apple waits a while before introducing the next screen size.

Update: On the other hand, most of our existing Mac apps have to be designed to work well at any screen resolution between the 13″ MacBook and the 30″ Cinema Display. From this point of view, having to support just two discrete iPad sizes should be comparatively easy.

Update 2: Steve Jobs just criticized the 7-inch form factor.


“Conversation… is one of the most important ways of establishing equality.”

-Theodore Zeldin

Humanizing math

I used to think that math was the perfect subject to teach via computer software (instead of lectures). My rationale was that computers are already good at math; and software-driven customization for each student is most useful for topics that require a solid knowledge of previous topics (e.g. algebra builds on multiplication and fractions).

This TED talk by Dan Meyer challenges those assumptions. He suggests that good math education starts with good discussions. It uses open-ended questions whose answers may be as unpredictable as responses to works of literature. It emphasizes how math relates to intuition and the real world, and deemphasizes arithmetic and equation solving. In other words, it humanizes math, a notion which makes a lot of sense in a world where computers not only compute sums but can easily solve, graph, and symbolically manipulate indefinite integrals. (On a cell phone. For free.)

Indeed, a lot (most?) of cutting-edge science today involves calculations so complicated that it would never even occur to the scientists to complete the math by hand.

So why bother teaching students in detail how to do the things that computers will always be better at? Meyer’s approach focuses on the human side — understanding when and why to apply mathematical tools. It’s not immediately clear how computers themselves will figure into this educational mission.