Build an iPad Prototype

I realized something yesterday during Steve’s keynote. For the first time, Apple is expecting third party developers to write apps targeted to a device that they have never held. If this new product was a laptop or another iPhone, this wouldn’t be a big deal. We have reference points for those. However, several of the audience members who used an iPad after the presentation said that you just don’t get it until you hold the device in your hands. It’s fast. It’s not a laptop. And it’s not just a big iPod touch.

If I want an app in the store on launch day, I need to know what an iPad feels like. There are roughly 59 days left before the lines form in front of Apple’s retail stores. In a video shown during the presentation, Scott Forstall described Launch Day: “…there’s going to be a whole new gold rush for developers”.

Back in college, Jeff Hawkins (the founder of Palm and Handspring) gave a guest lecture to one of my engineering classes. One of the key points he stressed—that sticks with me a decade later—was the absolute importance of building prototypes. Hawkins carved wooden and styrofoam blocks representing what would later become the Palm Pilot. He took notes on it during meetings and answered phone calls on it.

On the iPhone, we have been living with the devices for two and a half years. We know what they feel like. Xcode’s simulator is great, but there’s nothing like building and debugging your software on iPhone hardware. During your design phase, the Briefs project from Rob Rhyne is invaluable. In addition if you haven’t watched it already, check out Craig Hockenberry’s presentation from C4[2], describing what he learned by using his software in the real world.

How is the iPad going to be used? On the sofa? In a coffee shop, a cramped airplane seat, in bed, on the kitchen counter, commuting on the Metro, or even on the toilet?

I put together a very rough, very quick iPad template based on Apple’s technical specifications page. The 9.7″ diameter screen translates to a 7.76″ x 5.82″ rectangle (1024 x 768 square pixels). Download the PDF, print out a copy and build yourself a cardboard iPad prototype. Cut out 4 or 5 layers of cardboard from a shipping box and glue them together to make the prototype 0.5″ thick. Use rubber cement to put the paper stencil on the top layer.

Once you have this constructed, you immediately see why there is such a large black bevel around the iPad’s screen.

Good luck, happy designing & see you in March!

Download the iPad template:

or as a PDF or OmniGraffle document:

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