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We wrote at the end of January about how Apple’s next 9.7-inch iPad might mimic the look of its little brother, the iPad mini. A leaked image released around that time appeared to show the back of an iPad mini next to the back of a newer iPad. The larger model looked like it might have the same shrunken bezel as the mini.

There is now more evidence to support this change in the iPad hardware. French site NowhereElse.fr has published several images of iPad front panels. These panels don’t look like the panels we’ve seen in previous models, however — when held in the portrait orientation, the left and right bezels are thinner than those on the top and bottom.

ipad-new-thin-bezel

As you can see above, the front panel looks like one you might find on an iPad mini. The panel is too large to belong to the 7.9-inch tablet, though, and when compared to the size of the hand holding the panel, seems to match proportionately with the size of a 9.7-inch iPad with Retina.

The thinner side bezels would likely make it more difficult to hold the iPad in portrait mode without accidentally touching the screen. Fortunately, because of Apple’s experience with the iPad mini, the company already has technology capable of detecting and canceling out unwanted screen taps. On the mini, you can actually hold the device with a thumb on the side of the screen and use the tablet normally. The mini’s software simply cancels out your thumb’s touch and only worries about the other fingers you’re using on the screen.

So what are the benefits of making this design change? One is that trimming down the bezel makes the iPad a bit smaller, and with that comes a lower weight and a less-awkward feel to holding the device. At the moment, holding the full-size iPad doesn’t feel as natural or as comfortable as holding the smaller iPad mini — especially because the mini can be easily held in one hand, thanks to its thin bezel and accidental-touch-canceling technology.

A second benefit is the use of less materials. It may not seem like a big deal, but imagine a few millimeters of plastic, glass and aluminum multiplied by the dozens of millions of iPads that Apple sells every year. It adds up!

Rumor has it that Apple’s next iPad could hit sometime in the summer of this year. We’ll be sure to keep our ears to the ground and let you know if we hear anything more.

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