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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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This is a bit of yarn.

A company was evaluating upgrading to a new laptop. The old laptop was generations behind on architecture and storage. The upgrade should have been a formality.

The new laptop was thicker. It was heavier. That was sort of weird.

There were a lot of complaints about the screens. The aspect ratio changed from 16:10 to 16:9 (“it’s just the way the industry is going”)1, so some complaints were expected.

Upon seeing the screen, it became clear that the problem was not just aspect ratio. The new screen had more pixels. Unfortunately, there were fewer vertical pixels. Vertical pixels are life for a software engineer. The new screen was also an inch shorter and featured a smaller pixel pitch. So there was less content, in less room, and it was harder to see. A thick bezel was added to eat up all of the space freed up from the previous design.

How did this happen?

At the tail end of the life cycle for the old laptop, the vendor had a focus group with its biggest clients. Makes sense. The vendor wanted to make money. Getting real world feedback would help it retain clients and attract new ones.

Chief complaints in the focus group were that the battery life was poor and that the device felt flimsy and cheap. Both of these complaints were valid. On the old laptop, the screen in particular felt about as sturdy as a shrink-wrapped legal pad.

The vendor listened to this feedback. It set specific goals for the next laptop. Dramatic increases were required in battery runtime and chassis rigidity.

More efficient components were procured, but battery weight was required to achieve the runtime goal.

Reducing chassis flex was accomplished by adding more internal and external structure (read: plastic). The smaller screen helped with this, since it freed up some room and decreased the weak flexible cross section. The laptop could now be carried by the opened screen[^2] with confidence.

The effort was a success. The new laptop hit its targets.

Except there was one little problem. Nobody was asking for a bigger laptop with a smaller screen.

to 16:10, but this is not a time for reminiscence. Even today, Apple is making laptops with the best industrial design in the industry. All but their 11-inch Macbook Air have 16:10 screens. [^2]: There’s a special place in hell for these folks, but they exist. Laptops get abused. Good industrial design helps minimize the number of repairs required from this abuse.

  1. I remember when laptop screens were 4:3, and how painful it was to go