What might a tablet's home screen look like?

Apple’s still-mythical tablet has generated an incredible amount of speculation, about everything from how you’d type on it to what tasks it would be capable of handling. But one area that I haven’t seen discussed all that much is how one would manage and work with the programs installed on the device. (Let’s call it The Tablet, until a better name comes along.) That is, how would you find the programs you’ve installed, and what would the main “home” screen of The Tablet look like?

With a rumored 10 inches of diagonal screen real estate, there are a lot of options for program and home screen management. One possibility I don’t think we’ll see is to simply jumbo-size the iPhone’s approach to presenting and working with programs. For ease of math in this example, let’s assume The Tablet has a 10.5-inch diagonal screen, with the same pixel density as the current iPhone (480x320 on a 3.5-inch diagonal screen).

If that’s the case, then The Tablet would be able to display exactly nine iPhones’ worth of content on its home screen. As each iPhone screen can display 20 icons, that’d be 180 icons on one screen. In case the mental image isn’t clear enough, consider the slapped-together example below.

180 icons on The Tablet? (Click for huge version)

Oh my. I may not have any idea what Apple’s engineers are up to, but I think I know the company’s product history well enough to know something that busy looking would never see the light of day. Even in my “copy and paste nine times” look, it’s clear that a screen with 180 anythings on it is going to be too crowded looking to be usable.

So what are the alternatives? Obviously, there are any number of options the company could pursue—they could borrow from the Mac, the iPhone, both, or even start completely fresh.

Clearly, I have no inside knowledge of what interface The Tablet will use for its home screen. However, what I’d like to see is a home screen that’s a mix of the OS X Dock, Dashboard, and Finder.

Consider the following horrendously not-to-scale mockup of what such a home screen might look like. (While the icons and windows are not to scale, the shape of the screen is correct for a device with a 10-inch diagonal measurement.)

image
One possible table home screen

As you can quickly tell from my work, I am not an interface designer! But I think the image gets across the concept that I’d love to see executed (in a much better manner) on The Tablet.

To me, the home screen should be a living entity, not a static display of icons for assorted applications. So it’s basically like the OS X Dashboard in that regard—you can (somehow) place active applications on the home screen, and they would be updated while the screen was active. If you switch off the display, the apps would sleep, and then update again when you activate the display.

Just like on the OS X Dashboard, you could drag the various widgets around, and move them to the foreground by tapping on them. (There would, of course, be some method to close the widgets.) And notice, too, that we’re not stuck with iPhone Black for a background; the user could choose “tabletop” images, just as one can in OS X. (That we can’t do this in the iPhone without jailbreaking it is something that still bothers me.)

Off to the right (or bottom, if you hold The Tablet vertically), a version of the iPhone’s bottom row would let you anchor some number of most-used apps to the home screen. A Finder icon would then take you into another screen, where you would have direct access to any other programs installed on The Tablet.

Personally, I would love something like this that let me use all that glorious real estate for something other than a never-changing display of programs. It seems logical to use the space to let the user actually get a number of things done (i.e. check stock prices and weather, create a reminder note, and so on) without having to find and launch each of those programs one after the other.

Of course, this means The Tablet would need to support multi-tasking, as well as some sort of Finder-like interface for dealing with the rest of the programs that didn’t fit on the home screen. There are issues here, too, with switching from one orientation to another, and with programs that should perhaps present different “dashboard” and “regular use” interfaces to the user.

But that’s just my quick thoughts on a potential home screen for The Tablet. What do you think—or want—to see relative to managing and using programs on The Tablet, if it really does exist?

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