The Guardian criticises the iPad Air 2’s display, due to Apple using what the reviewer refers to in the verdict as a “square screen”. Of course, the screen isn’t actually square, but it’s squarer than the bulk of those used by its rivals. Apple, since the original iPad, has provided a tablet with a 4:3 aspect ratio, somewhat aping the printed page. By contrast, most competing tablets have primarily been designed for landscape orientation, in 16:9, common for movies.
If nothing else, this showcases assumptions regarding intentions for the devices themselves. Android tablets have been more geared towards movie and TV consumption, whereas iPads ‘compromised’ that use-case in order to provide a device with wider scope. I explore this further in a piece for Stuff, which examines Google’s new Nexus displays, the tablet now following Apple’s lead.
The short of that is about versatility. 16:9 leaves little room in landscape for content when using the virtual keyboard; in portrait it’s often unsatisfying for reading, because the viewport is so narrow. (Oddly, the Guardian reviewer calls out the iPad for having black bars at the side of comic books, despite those blank spaces being perfectly good for placing your thumbs and flipping pages, without covering content; by contrast, tablets closer to 9:16 aspect ratios in portrait may have black bars at the top and bottom, which the reviewer had a go at the iPad for regarding video.)
Of course, the best aspect ratio for you depends entirely on what you’re doing with a device, and if you only want TV on the go, then having a device with a screen ratio similar to a telly’s makes sense; however, if you want a device suitable for a much wider range of tasks, 16:9 isn’t the smartest move, something Apple knew all along, something Google’s now embracing, and something Microsoft’s also figured out with its new Surface Pro tablets, which use a 3:2 aspect.