The iSlate Report: So Where Does Apple’s Creativity End?

January 4th, 2010

Regardless of what Apple really does later this month at a rumored media event, this might be considered the month of the tablet as far as they’re concerned. Indeed, so many people actually expect such a thing to happen that Apple might be shooting itself in the foot if no such product is actually released.

Certainly, buyers are ready, and no matter what the rumored iSlate or whatever it’s going to be called actually contains, millions will be sold within the first few months. Of course, sustaining a market will require a lot more than hype.

Indeed, there was plenty of hype surrounding the Mac Cube also, and initial sales were good, despite the fact that what many regarded as a museum piece was underpowered and overpriced. It goes to show that all flash and little substance cannot be an assured success.

These days, however, Apple receives plenty of positive press. The iPod was a huge success, the iPhone a phenomenon beyond most expectations and the Mac has staged a huge comeback in recent years. At the same time, Microsoft’s efforts to remain relevant have faltered, so they’ve been forced by the marketplace to rely on their old standbys, such as operating systems, office suites and server produces.

You just know that Apple’s competitors want to head the company off at the pass. There are already reports that new tablet-style computers will be introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show within days, although it’s questionable just what sort of operating system interface they’ll use. If it’s just the same old failed Windows-bred tablet motif, it’ll be too little and too late.

At the same time, is an Apple tablet a dream come true, or just a response to years of clamoring from the media and customers that such a product must be built?

Of course that’s the question I’ve been raising in recent weeks. If the iSlate is going to be a gussied up iPhone, how does it advance the state of the art? If the interface is the same, and the software is the same, except for modifications to accommodate a larger screen size, where’s the benefit?

An e-book?

As most of you know, the Amazon Kindle has been quite successful, and its manufacturer claims that some book titles are now faring better in electronic rather than printed form. However, don’t forget that iPhone and iPod touch users can already download and install a Kindle app. The iSlate would surely have an expanded version, and there are already other book and magazine reading apps. Nothing new there, other than a larger screen size to allow for greater reading comfort and perhaps more flexibility in managing different forms of content, such as textbooks.

There are, in fact, more and more stories that publishers, stung by the rapid decline of printed fare, are begging Apple to establish some sort of sales and subscription program, perhaps using the App Store. Another set of rumors addresses TV content, perhaps an effort to establish Apple as a dead-on competitor to cable and satellite TV.

A decent number of publisher partners might not be terribly difficult for Apple to collect, since most of them are desperate for new income opportunities, particularly those who have daily newspapers in their repertoire. But when it comes to TV networks, the recent skirmishes involving cable systems and carriage fees makes it crystal clear that contracts won’t be easy to negotiate.

Even if you consider the superior skills of Steve Jobs, Tim Cook and other senior Apple executives in navigating the rough waters of the entertainment industry, would are they seeking? Would it be just another service with 300 or so channels? Hardly, since Apple doesn’t deliver me-too products and services. Besides, even if you have all those channels, most customers still struggle to find a handful with shows worth watching.

Even if Apple does offer a new media content service, how does that relate to a tablet-based computer anyway? Certainly your Mac or Apple TV already serve the function of managing media, although you could certainly perform such chores within the diminutive screen environment of the iPhone and iPod touch. But I see them better suited as remote controls for larger devices.

So we return to the main issue: If Apple is going to build a tablet-based computer, they would have to devise new and better ways to allow you to create and consume content, and it would have to serve those functions with greater convenience and elegance than existing products. Otherwise, there would be no reason for such a product to exist, beyond the hopes and wishes from many that such a gadget is inevitable.

Honestly, these are questions I do not claim to be able to answer. But it’s a certainty that Apple doesn’t enter new markets unless they can make a genuine difference and earn healthy profits. The day of the tablet has supposedly been on the horizon for years. Maybe Apple has found a way to make that market segment successful and we’ll all be pleasantly surprised when and if the iSlate actually appears.

Till then, color me skeptical.

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9 Responses to “The iSlate Report: So Where Does Apple’s Creativity End?”

  1. Jeff says:

    We’re only four days into the month and the unending hype has gone beyond tiresome. Every Apple fan site, newspaper, and even NPR got into the act, hyping the so-called “iSlate” and the rumored specifications. I’m about ready to switch it all off until February. Maybe it’s the engineer in me, but please show me the facts, spare me all of the drama, and show me how an oversized iPhone is going to be a useful portable device while being coddled in a layer of rubber skins and screen protectors.

    It’s either one of the greatest viral marketing campaigns of all time or the bloom coming off of Apple’s rose. If Apple doesn’t deliver something at the end of the month that delivers on these expectations there could be hell to pay.

  2. DaveD says:

    I initially thought that the “Xpad” primary function would be to present digitized multimedia available at the iTunes Store. I still do. But, after reading so many articles on this mythical tablet-like device, I’m going along with some of the guesses.

    The Xpad is destined to be what the Mac was in 1984, a game changer. Like the devices used in “Star Trek,” it will be the dawn of touch-based computing, the next step forward of human-to-computer interactions.

    • Sean says:

      @DaveD, I couldn’t agree more. I see the Tablet computer supplanting the laptop in the next decade. As you say, it’s simply evolution and it looks like Apple is leading the way yet again.

  3. Mike says:

    It would be great if it had 3g/4g capability (even via usb) to connect anything OTHER than AT&T.

    Also, I think they should get Kristin Wiig from SNL to do advertisements (or the launch) playing that character who just cannot keep a secret.


  4. Sean says:

    Content is king. Others will introduce Tablets, but what will they offer in terms of unified content and a cohesive user experience? Apple just announced 3 billion App downloads, a 1 billion increase in the last 3 months. Include music, movies, videos, books, magazines and newspaper subscriptions to that list and you have nearly everything you need in terms of media in one centralized location (iTunes).

    Is anyone else even close to those numbers?…… The competition is very far behind.

    Oh, and spare me the “closed environment” argument. Only geeks and IT nerds care. The average consumer has better things to do than jailbreak their iPhone. THEY DON”T CARE.

    • @Sean, Apropos of nothing, a story about Google’s new smartphone suggests, in passing, that existing Android partners might resent the competition, perhaps recalling the experience of Microsoft’s PlaysForSure partners when the Zune came out. In the end, Google might end up doing serious harm to their platform. Besides, they have no experience building consumer electronics products, so why would anyone expect anything good from them? This is not something that just happens. Apple had been building electronics gear for decades before the iPod and iPhone debuted.


  5. rwahrens says:

    I agee. Gruber has a great write-up on this over at Daring Fireball. Well worth the read.

  6. John Dingler says:

    Be careful not to repeat this

    “Besides, they have no experience building consumer electronics products, so why would anyone expect anything good from them?”

    too often as Nokia expressed the very same sentiment about the iPhone, and it was wrong because Apple, previously a non-cell phone maker, made a very successful cellphone. Remember?

    Please prepare a graceful retraction should you be wrong. *S* Cheers,

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