Why an Apple Tablet?

September 30th, 2009

The speculation about a possible tablet computer from Apple has come thick and fierce all over again. The latest rumblings have it once again that Steve Jobs continues to shepherd the project through various obstacles, such as finalizing an actual design.

Indeed, if you can believe those rumors, this gadget has gone through several major alterations, such as switching from Mac OS X to the iPhone OS, not to mention various screen sizes. If true, the alleged iTablet would be capable of running existing iPhone apps, including that huge quantity of games. Of course how they’d scale up to a larger screen is anyone’s guess, although great graphical display is a normal part of the various OS X versions.

Now nobody outside of Apple knows for sure whether such a product will truly see the light of day, despite the optimistic nature of some of those reports. The return to Apple of Michael Tchao, someone originally involved with the Newton, does make the entire concept seem sensible, though. In the end, maybe the stories are based on fact, and that some iteration of this gadget will appear. The real question, however, is what purpose it might serve.

This is no small issue, and it’s one I’ve raised before. You see, Apple really doesn’t want to build a niche product, even though some of the critics apply that label to the Macintosh. They aren’t going to invest boatloads of development money in something that doesn’t see a solid return now and in the future. There has to be a long-term goal in mind, and not just some quick profits today. In that sense, Apple is very different from just about all the other PC makers on the planet.

I rather suspect the netbook came about not because it was a neat idea, but a way for companies to build a cheap product and sell something, anything, in a down economy. In the end, it doesn’t matter one bit if those customers eventually return to standard PC note-books when they can afford the price of admission. Whatever sells is good.

Apple doesn’t operate that way, which is why they weren’t first on the market with a digital media player or a smartphone. They waited to develop something they had faith in, something that would survive for a number of years. Even as iPod sales dip, more buyers are moving to the iPhone, which is, of course, part iPod. So Apple is only cannibalizing itself, which is just fine from their point of view.

With an iTablet, we have to look at the purposes it serves. Certainly an enhanced gaming platform is a given, considering Apple’s rapidly growing success in that market. I would also suspect that this device would allow you to connect external input devices, such as game controllers, to greatly enhance the experience, and perhaps encourage developers to provide more of the features you find in a traditional gaming console. Certainly a high definition TV port, such as the new Mini DisplayPort, would be a huge plus.

The latest online chatter has it that Apple is also courting newspaper and magazine publishers to bring their publications to the tablet platform. You can certainly see where Apple might even be developing enhanced text display features, designed to make the Amazon Kindle DX even more pathetic than it is now. If this caught on, it would, in small part, help salvage the publishing industry that’s seen incredible losses in sales and profits in recent years.

However, I don’t think buyers would be lining up to acquire a $700 or $800 e-book reader. That’s just an additional and surely highly useful function.

Surely businesses that find an iPhone’s screen too small could find lots of purposes for an Apple tablet. Physicians would use them to record patient information, as they do now with PC tablet-based note-books. Quality control people could tour a production floor with iTablet in hand to check inventory levels and deal with manufacturing issues. Courtroom reporters could use it to record both the audio and text of a legal proceeding, and anyone wanting a portable device with touch entry would be a potential customer.

Graphic artists might find a larger touch screen presents a valuable new technique with which to generate and edit digital artwork, and the iTablet’s text entry features would be far more capable than that on the iPhone. You might even be able to write something containing more than a few paragraphs without hitting the wall in terms of flexibility.

Naturally, lots of people who might have purchased a Mac note-book might consider the iTablet instead. But a sale is a sale, and that shouldn’t harm Apple’s bottom line. Even better would be to attract people from the Dark Side, some of whom are using an old-fashioned stylus to interface with an existing PC tablet.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not at all certain whether I want a grown-up iPhone or iPod touch, however it’s labeled. I’m old fashioned enough to prefer the traditional note-book and, for that matter, desktop. On the other hand, maybe a few hours exposure to an iTablet will make me change my tune.

That is, of course, should such a device actually appear. Despite what you’ve read, that is by no means certain.

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9 Responses to “Why an Apple Tablet?”

  1. Dave Barnes says:

    Why is AppleLinks no longer linking to you?

  2. Not a clue. We still send them updates.


  3. dfs says:

    Well sure, an Apple tablet that doubles as an e-book reader makes terrific sense. If it could be used as a communications/PDA device and a games/entertainment device and an e-book reader all in one, probably there would be plenty of takers. I personally think the most obvious and natural hookup would be with Google, if the e-book reader could be used to access Google Books, Apple’s e-book reader would gain access to a huge prefabricated library of offerings, and Google could begin to monetize (awful word, isn’t it?) Google Books. It sounds to me like a marriage made in heaven. Students could use it to access e-textbooks, newspapers could begin to distribute their product by that medium, etc. etc. etc. All this stuff accessed, of course, via a yet again expanded iTunes. Depending on how bold and imaginative Apple is in exploiting it, this could easily turn into their next big cash cow. I admit it would be a lot more cumbersome to lug around than an iPhone, but it could easiliy be slipped in a backpack or tucked inside a briefcase, so I don’t think the objection is all that fatal if they can keep the weight down. And Gene’s estimate that it would come in the $700-800 range might be a tad on the high side. They could build one version with G3 connectivity and a cheaper one with Wi-fi only.

  4. DaveD says:

    I haven’t a clue as to what Apple is planning these days. But, I get a lot of levity reading all the speculations and conjectures of a never-been-announced Apple Tablet product. It is like a contest. If Apple make such an announcements, the media publication can claim braggart’s rights for being the first and/or making the correct call.

    If I would take a guess it would have to be something to do with the iTunes Store. The store was called the iTunes Music Store and another name change looks likely.

    What if the iTunes Store become somewhat like Amazon.com? Instead of shipping physical items to customers, all of the items are just a click away for any Apple device to receive it. What if there is one such device (being tested) that is the best for all of the (current and future) content types and formats?

    Could that be another long-term revenue stream?

  5. Yacko says:

    My guess is Apple has at least half a dozen uses for it, you take your pick of what fits your life.

    How about:

    1) iTunes
    a) ebook/emag sales and reading device
    b) rich album content
    c) portable 720p video viewer
    2) Web Browser
    3) Game Machine (multi mode – full screen, 2 player split screen across a table, split screen portrait mode like a folded out flat Nintendo DS, one screen visuals the other a controller)
    4) Kitchen Slate
    5) USB added screen to a computer
    6) Wireless video and audio controller for editing in Final Cut and Logic
    7) Coffee table picture snapshot viewer
    7) Netbook (Split screen portrait again. Top half visuals and bottom half you type.)
    9) Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

    Apple has to get into the game because a tabletty-thing is inevitable. The wireless companies have limited growth prospects unless wireless connectivity can be brought to larger devices, more diverse devices and even devices that are housebound and with limited mobility. Somebody will provide the winning device and ecosystem and it may as well be Apple. You won’t see it until next June, as it needs LTE, and even then the device will probably be a bit premature vis-a-vis LTE rollout.

    Oh, the reason there are two 7’s is that when I type eight-parenthesis-space etc, I get a Yellow smiley and don’t know why.

    • dfs says:

      “Netbook (Split screen portrait again. Top half visuals and bottom half you type.)” And maybe a USB or other kind of port that would permit use of an external keyboard and pointing device.

  6. Blad_Rnr says:

    I agree with Yacko. It’s a natural evolution of the iPhone/iPod Touch. (But if it has wifi, why the need for LTE?)

    Imagine sitting on your lounge chair at home watching a movie, surfing the ‘Net, getting email, listening to music, playing games, reading a newspaper, access to 85K apps…all without having to lug around a heavy laptop. I think it would be incredible.

    And watching the pathetic video demo of MSFT’s tablet just shows how great touch is on the iPhone/Touch. They still can’t get it right when compared to Apple. For $599-$799 I think it would easily sell millions. There is so much potential with this device. And if the newspaper industry is dying then this would be a perfect subscription solution for it. No more paper and overhead, reduced costs, easily updated the headlines, sports scores, etc. As an e-book reader, in color, it would be much better than the Kindle. So much potential. And I can go weeks without having to reboot my iPhone. That speaks of the appliance-like abilities of OS X on devices. Can’t wait!

  7. jared says:

    I think inorder for this apple tablet / iSlate to work it has to have a full operation system. There is no point in having a iPod touch with a 10 inch screen. The days of carrying a boom box are over.

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