The Apple Tablet
What’s bigger than an iPhone, smaller than a MacBook, and the most anticipated Apple product since the original iPhone - the Apple Tablet. The expected late January announcement of the long anticipated device (purported to be called the “iSlate”) might not materialize, but it’s clear Apple has something big in store for 2010.
While the web has been awash in rumors and speculation for months, few have asked the most salient question: what will the product do for users that an iPhone or a laptop doesn’t already do? Apple has a history of only releasing products that fulfill a clear market need. After working for 4-6 years on the project (and reportedly canceling it twice), it’s extremely unlikely the Tablet is “just a bigger iPhone” or an Apple netbook. It has to provide functionality the iPhone can’t.
The most likely date for release is the March/April timeframe. Although most analysts are predicting a price point under $1000, don’t be surprised if it comes in higher.
The Tablet will be driven not by Intel or Nvidia chips, but ones based PA Semi technology, which Steve Jobs said Apple bought specifically to design custom chips for iPhones, iPods - and future Apple products. The new low-power chips should give the Tablet excellent battery life. The Tablet will need it to power it’s video-capable 10 to 11” mulit-touch screen and user-facing camera.
As far as connectivity, WiFi is a given. More uncertain is the inclusion of 3G network access, and whether it will be via Verizon or AT&T. Verizon is most likely, with the possibility of the carrier subsidizing the price in exchange for a 2 year plan. Interestingly, little has been said about ports, except for the likely inclusion of USB.
There have been reports of a radically different user interface that will redefine how users interact with their computers (and described as having a steep learning curve). More likely is the evolution of the iPhone user interface, scaled up for the larger display, the key element of which will be gestures. The iPhone introduced such now familiar gestures as tap, double-tap, pinch, and flick. The fact that they seemed “obvious” and we now take them for granted is indicative of good design. Apple has been slowly incorporating these and other gestures to their laptop computers using the track pad, which is only slightly larger than the iPhone’s screen. It seems obvious that Apple will exploit the much larger Tablet screen to radically expand the use of gestures.
The Case for the Tablet
So what will we use the Tablet for? Apple can leverage its existing assets - the over 100 million paying customers in iTunes, the 100,000 iPhone OS applications developers, and their relationships with music and video content owners - to make the ultimate media device. The Tablet will be the device to find, purchase and consume an ever expanding variety of media and applications.
Apple has been in talks with print publishers about getting newspapers, magazines, and books on the Tablet. Imagine being able to read the New York Times, and interactive version of Newsweek, and the current best seller all on the same device that plays songs, movies, TV Shows, and podcasts from your iTunes library. Imagine using Safari, or accessing your iPhone library, or playing games on a screen with 4-5 times the area of the iPhone. Imagine being able to run current iPhone Apps optimized for the Tablet. Imagine what new Apps those 100,000 iPhone developers will dream up when they break out of the confines of a device that has to fit in your pocket.
It’s impossible that the Tablet will be able to do all of the above in its first iteration. But the first version of the iPhone lacked things we take for granted today, like the 100,000 apps in the App store, 3GS, and copy and paste, to name just a few. But the things it did were insanely great, and its capabilities grew steadily over time. Expect no less from the Tablet.