Thin is in when it comes to gadgets. But why?

I used to be a gadget nudist. Once I unboxed whatever gleaming glass and fingerprint-magnet plastic device was my current object of desire, nothing came between it and my sweaty paws. I just saw no reason to spend money on a case for my gadgets. But oh, how I've changed. It all started with the iPad 1. I don't know how many millions of dollars Apple spent researching the skeletal and muscular structure of the human hand, but it paid off when they delivered a device that you simply cannot hold onto in its naked state. You grab the thing securely but the second your attention wanders the slightest bit, it wriggles out of your grasp. When Steve Jobs called the iPad 'magical' I'm pretty sure he was referring to its almost sentient ability to escape from its human captors.

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So I bought Apple's over-priced iPad case, which added thickness to the device but made holding it a much more pleasant and secure experience. That was the thin end of the case-wedge but I did hold out a little longer. I never did get a case for the Motorola Droid or my Kindle 3 (now known as the Kindle Keyboard). But the Kindle Fire I purchased last November was just heavy enough that it was fatiguing to hold onto for long bouts of reading, so I bought a case for it. Again, the case made the device thicker and easier to hold. Then I looked at my Acer A500 Android tablet and wondered. Soon enough it was wrapped up in a case too. When I bought my Galaxy Nexus I didn't plan to get a case but the Verizon employee talked me into it. I'm glad he did. On cold, dry winter days that Nexus feels really slippery in my hands and the silicon case I bought makes it much easier to hold onto. I initially eschewed cases because I'm careful with my gadgets and I saw cases as a way to protect them. But now I see that another reason for a case is to add more ways to hold a device securely, and that's why I've become a fan. And I'm not alone. Making cases for personal electronics has become quite an industry; virtually every gadget has a case custom-designed to fit it, which leads me to believe sales are high enough to justify all these designs. What I find amusing is juxtaposing the case-mania with the drive for thinner and thinner devices. Being the thinnest phone or tablet seems to be a huge marketing point, but what does it really matter if tablet X is 2 mm thinner than tablet Y if we're just going to wrap the device in a bulky case? My Acer tablet, in the case, is about an inch thick and I love it. (The naked tablet is half an inch thick in the middle but tapers along it's edges to be perhaps a quarter of an inch.) There are a variety of ways to hold it including via a hand strap on the back (you shove your palm between the case and the strap and can easily hold the tablet one-handed). Ditto the Nexus. The silicon case I have for it doesn't even have a cover to protect the screen; it's really just a was to add some grippy thickness to the phone (this style of case is really popular with my iPhone owning friends, too.) Without the case there's just not enough contact area between my skin and the device to hold it securely when the temperature drops below freezing. And thin-mania isn't limited to handheld devices. Ultrabooks were a big deal at CES, and everyone loves them because they're so thin. I don't get why it matters how thick my laptop is (within reason...no one wants a 3" thick laptop). I can't see the thickness of the screen when I'm using the laptop, and I rather like the 'deck' to be thick enough to raise the keys a bit off the surface of the desk. I think ultrabooks are popular because they look cool when you pull them out of your bag. Or because they're lightweight. I'm all for light electronics but the marketing teams don't promote weight, they promote thickness. Maybe I'm just a Luddite, I don't know. Or maybe it's just easy to market thickness as a general yardstick of overall lightness and portability. We can see thickness in a magazine ad or on a website. We can't see weight, after all. Is it just me? When you read that a new phone or tablet is 2 mm thicker than its competitors, does that grab your attention? Is thinness a selling point for you? Please leave a comment! Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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