Do We Need More Widescreen Tablets?

You’d have trouble buying a TV these days that wasn’t widescreen (16:9) ratio, but when it comes to consuming entertainment on smaller devices like tablets, standard aspect (4:3) still predominates. Does that need to change?

I started thinking about this issue when I got a press release from market research firm DisplaySearch looking at projections for the future of mobile devices. Unsurprisingly, tablet devices took a major leap in 2010 with 55.7 million units sold worldwide, a move driven in large part by the iPad and to a lesser extent by the many and varied Android options. By 2014, DisplaySearch is predicting that tablets will account for 35% of the market. (You can see some of the details in the chart above.)

One reason that growth will happen is because there’ll be a move towards offering widescreen ratios on more devices. As the release notes:

When Apple introduced its iPad in 2010, it once again shocked many industry observers by providing a standard (4:3) aspect ratio device, even as notebooks, monitors, and TVs were moving to wide (16:9 or 16:10) formats. The success of the iPad has sparked debates about the best display format for slates; combined with screen size, the outcome of this debate will help to define the category. A plethora of new devices purporting to be more user-friendly by the nature of their “wide” footprint (or “long” when used in the palm of one’s hand) continue to flood the supply chain.

Of course, having the option to offer a widescreen device in the future gives Apple (and everyone else) an excuse to get us all to upgrade sooner rather than later when the iPad 2 and its successors appear. Even more cynically, it potentially gives app developers an excuse to sell yet another refitted version of their apps, a strategy that worked quite well in some categories for the original iPad.

My main use for tablet devices tends to be browsing web sites, and as such the ratio issue doesn’t bother me much. But if I was using it to keep myself entertained on the road or on a plane, I can imagine wanting my movies presented in a more efficient format.

Would you rather have a widescreen tablet, or you are happier to stick with the existing 4:3 ratio? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Lifehacker’s weekly Streaming column looks at how technology is keeping us entertained.


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