Could the Rumored Apple iTablet Really be Apple TV Take 3?

| Hidden Dimensions

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work."

-- Thomas Edison

Apple faces special challenges with the Apple TV. That's because of the nature of the broadcast and TV industries, keen competition from Netflix, the proliferation of media outlets, like Hulu and Boxee, and changing viewing habits by younger viewers. One way for Apple to blind-side the competition is to deliver an iTablet, with a larger screen than the iPhone, designed to directly access TV and movie content on the Internet. Think of it as Apple TV Take 3. And, as always, Apple gets a piece of the action.

I have continued to believe that the evolution of the rumored Apple iTablet (or iPod super touch) is not based on technology alone. Nor is it based on the needs of the businessman or technical writers. Rather, it will be based on a keen understanding of Apple's customers, especially younger ones.

Exploring the Previous Concepts

Here's the line of logic. (Note, it may require a look at the links below to fill in the details of my arguments.)

1. The era of free TV on the Internet is coming to a close. That creates business opportunities.

2. Netflix has a distinct advantage over Apple right now. The company is fairly hardware neutral, so it has struck agreements with LG, Samsung, TiVo, Microsoft (Xbox) and Sony (Bravia) to deliver streaming content. Apple, with the Apple TV, is bound by its desire to sell its own bundled solution, Mac OS X + Apple TV hardware. However that entails selling the customer a living room box, always a hard sell compared to streaming built-in to, say, a Blu-ray player -- and yet another wired connection to the HDTV. Sure, a lot of Apple TVs have been sold, but I'm talking about going mainstream, not settling for a specialty product for principally Apple enthusiasts.

 

iTablet concept

 

Best iTablet concept: Loop Rumors

3. Habits of younger viewers are changing. Appointment television and the leash to a living room TV, owned by the parents, is giving way to a mobile viewing generation that wants to watch content whenever. Moreover, they're not as bound to the process of evening TV, like their parents, but pick and chose, leaving the formal medium for long periods of time.

4. The purported development of personal technology products is often delineated by tech writers who travel a lot. They don't have a special need for a third device to fit between the notebook and the smartphone. It's what I called the staging issue in a previous Hidden Dimensions, linked above. It means that business people, in their work and travel cycle, don't have room or a need for a small tablet. That HD is also where I pointed out the problems associated with UMPCs and how a lightweight MacBook Air, or MacNetBook, could become a viable addition to Apple's line up -- but only for technical professionals.

5. Personal gaming on a smallish device has become a Big Thing thanks to the iPhone. It's another market that begs for a small, slate device without a keyboard, which I have previously described in detail. That's nothing new, but the kicker remains...

The Solution to Apple's Problem is a Win for Customers

However, it wasn't until I started thinking about an additional role that the (iPad, iTablet, iPod super touch) would play that I realized that not only would it be a great game machine, ebook reader and display for medical professionals, but it also neatly solves the problem of competing with Netflix in a very Apple, focused way. That is, it bypasses the stationary living room box and gives the mobile, young user access to TV and movies, on demand, in a screen size & weight combination not matched by a traditional MacBook or iPhone. That has required some technology development, batteries and low power systems. Fortunately, Apple is building that technology base with the iPhone and iPod touch.

As a result, that middle-ground tablet product, so useless for the business or technical professional, is perfectly tuned for the needs of mobile youth who watch anything, anytime, anywhere.

So here's the complete list of the markets for this iTablet:

  1. Medicine
  2. Video chat
  3. Games
  4. eBooks
  5. Mobile TV & movie viewing

The nice thing is that every one of these markets has a business model that can be supported with iTunes. Every one of them is geared towards the next generation of mobile, video oriented customers, not towards the Netbook and PowerPoint users of the past.

The No Compete Claus (for Christmas)

In addition, such an iTablet doesn't compete against Apple's notebook line. We saw in Apple's Q309 Earnings Report that Apple has an excellent understanding of the needs of its notebook customers, and that precludes and repudiates the traditional netbook for the markets listed above.

Once we have a feel for the target markets of the iTablet, we can start to formulate some ideas on the design specifications. In my iPad essay linked above, I suggested it would not have 3G voice capability. The iTablet will be aimed at younger users who may either already have an iPhone or don't want to incur a 24 month carrier plan. But that doesn't preclude a 3G data plan for Internet access anywhere. Combined with faster 3G and, later, 4G speeds and ubiquitous Wi-Fi, the iTablet becomes the next generation TV, usable virtually anywhere.

A low power CPU from PA Semi, a small SSD for storage, a ten inch screen, iPhone OS 3.0 combined with Apple TV technology would seem to round out the design.

The idea of such a device also explains some of Apple's decisions. For example, no interest in a partnership with Netflix. The goal is to squash Netflix, not cooperate, especially since the Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, sits on the Microsoft Board of Directors. Perhaps, with Apple's input, HTML 5 can be refined in order to completely bypass Flash (and Silverlight). Apple has never embraced Blu-ray on the desktop because the company has been planning for this Internet-centric device al along. So the artist concepts I've seen that include a DVD or Blu-ray player aren't credible.

One enduring question that remains is: why the delay? One possibility is the recession. Another is the timing. PA Semi probably wasn't ready with the CPU or chipset last Christmas, and believe me, this is a Christmas-oriented device. Another reason might be that Apple felt that current 3G networks weren't ready to support such a device with the kind of user experience Apple wanted.

Apple TV, Take 3

Right now the best information I've seen amongst the rumors suggests a ten inch screen tablet released in October. The amusing part is that many companies tried such a concept before, the UMPC and the Sony PSP. They all failed, relatively speaking, because they didn't pull together a complete package: Low power design, UNIX OS, great developer SDK, great UI, Apple industrial design, a precursor mountain of iPhone apps, and complete networking. Leave it to Apple to get all its ducks in a row and once again catch the competition flat-footed.

As this device starts to take hold, I expect to see an eventual decline of the Apple TV. Of course, there will always be a number of people who want to connect an Apple TV to a large screen HDTV just as there will always be some people who want a dedicated MP3 player.  However, that number may not be enough to satisfy Apple in the long term, and I now believe that the Apple TV has been not only been a hobby but a fortuitous business tactic, a beachhead, to capture and hold Apple customers/viewers until the real, mass market, intended Apple product is ready.

No one knows what Apple will call it. iTablet? But underneath the hood, one can also think of it as Apple TV Take 3 for the millennials.

Sign Up for the Newsletter

Join the TMO Express Daily Newsletter to get the latest Mac headlines in your e-mail every weekday.

Comments

cfoxy

One area that people have not considered with regards to the Mac Tablet would be people who have special educational needs.  There are quite a few companies that manufacturer or distribute pc’s with touch-screens that cost many thousands of pounds or dollars.  For people who need to communicate using specialist software such as Proloqou2go or Boardmaker a Mac Tablet would be most welcome.  Especially with all the Universal Access enhancements with Snow Leopard.  I can see an enormous market for the tablet especially if it has a solid state hard drive.  It will be without a doubt worth waiting for.

Chris from the UK

Mike Weasner

Internet TV.  Not for me.  Certainly not in HD, even on a small screen.  I’m stuck at 1.5 mbps DSL for the foreseeable future.  It is the fastest speed available in my area.  I wonder just how many households have the bandwidth to support true Internet TV HD.  Sometimes I watch NBC Nightly News via the iTunes podcast (when I miss the show on DirecTV-connected HD TV).  It takes almost as long to download the show to my computer as it does to watch it.  Watching streaming video is even worse; it stutters, drops video.  So, while an “iTablet” would be nice for some purposes (and some people), I don’t see it as a replacement for or an addition to the HDTV in my household.

Josh

I may be the exception, but I’m of the opinion that ‘HD’ video is over rated.  I don’t know anyone that can afford to replace their adequately functioning TV with a $1,000 to > 2,000 HDTV in the current economy.  Especially considering the costs associated with upgrading your entire video library to HD format (iTunes digital or BlueRay).

I bet that a lot of people that don’t already have an HDTV (The majority of Americans in my opinion), will be content with SDTV for the next 10 to 15 years.  I’d be perfectly happy with a SDTV solution that came over the web and could be viewed on my TV without a messy hack.  Boxee used to work, but doesn’t anymore. 

I’ve taken to just buying TV shows on DVD, ripping them to my old G4 file server and syncing it up with my AppleTV (with attached 1TB external USB HD)

John Martellaro

My recollection is that about half of U.S. households have at least one HDTV. This report says the number will climb to 82% next year.
http://www.dmwmedia.com/blog/admin/report-82-of-u-s-households-will-have-hdtv-sets-by-2010

However, a smaller percentage is hooked up to an HD service.

As for media, the trick is to NOT upgrade all your library items, but do it piecemeal as the years go by.

-JM

Tiger

And I may be out in left field, but I think Apple TV will come to an end instead of expand. It’s a narrowing niche headed for a distinct conclusion.

UrbanBard

I’ve thought, for some time, along the same lines, John. I’ve resisted the idea of a 10” iTablet, because it is the wrong size. It would be too unwieldy.

The only thing going for that size is that you can fit on it a 1344 by 840 pixel screen at the iphone’s resolution of 163 dots per inch.

What if you could increase the screen resolution? That would allow for a smaller devise and provide for a very crisp picture. But, this would demand that Apple finish up resolution independence, as is rumored to be in Snow leopard.

The advantage is that you can reduce the devise to a historically comfortable, tried and true, format of a paperback book which is less than 6.75 by 4.25 inches. Then, the only limit is how well the eye can resolve a higher pixel display. The current Mac screen resolution is 72 dots per inch, so a screen with three times that resolution would be near 220 DPI. That should be comfortable at 12 to 18 inches away from the eye.

A 1344 by 840 pixel display at 220 dots per inch would be 6.125 by 3.825 inches. That make for a handy device, say 6.5” by 4”, which would easily fit into a back pocket or purse if it were as thin as the iTouch.

This should be cheap enough for Apple to produce, since the major price increase would be due to the larger screen. Of course, I am assuming that the new iTouch’s will get the computer hardware introduced on the iPhone 3GS. That has been the pattern for hardware upgrades, so far.

I am assuming that a larger iTouch would be $150 to $200 more than the current medium iTouch of $299 for a price of $450 to $500. The optimum time to release this would be in time for Christmas in October. So if this is going to happen, we have to wait.

John Martellaro

UrbanBard:  great stuff!

I also note that the SMPTE recommends a viewing angle of 30 degrees, side to side, for HDTV viewing.  For a 10 inch diag screen, that places the best eye position at 17-18 inches, also optimum for reading, viewing for most adults.  So the 10-inch choice may have been dictated by that. Just a guess.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optimum_HDTV_viewing_distance

-JM

Whab

Great analysis! Another market I definitely see is school: Apple tablet could replace all school books, and allows teachers to remotely check homework. I’ve seen my 5 year-old niece learning to use an iPhone in a couple of minutes! The iPhone/iPod touch interface is the way to go for school applications…

A 1280 x 800 touchscreen-based tablet is more likely: it’s a standard WXGA LCD, and with 160 dpi it would match the rumored 9.5 screens Apple has ordered (8.1 x 5”). The device could then fit a 9x6” size.

Based on SMPTE and 20/20 visual acuity, a 13” to 22” viewing distance would be optimal for reading, movie watching, etc for either adults or kids…

Check the “Field Of View” iPhone app (http://www.itunes.com/app/fieldofview).

cb50dc

Internet TV.  Not for me.  Certainly not in HD, even on a small screen.  I?m stuck at 1.5 mbps DSL for the foreseeable future.  It is the fastest speed available in my area.

How far do you consider “foreseeable”?

Perhaps, IF this does emerge, Apple’s again just taking the lead, saying, “Hey folks, here’s the future. Get on board!” And it’ll take 2-3 years for the train to build up steam. But it’s headed there, and—in this scenario—Apple gets a foot not just in the door, but well onto the living room floor. Again, they become the one to catch up to.

Perhaps.

deasys

I may be the exception, but I?m of the opinion that ?HD? video is over rated.? I don?t know anyone that can afford to replace their adequately functioning TV with a $1,000 to > 2,000 HDTV in the current economy….I bet that a lot of people that don?t already have an HDTV (The majority of Americans in my opinion), will be content with SDTV for the next 10 to 15 years.

HDTV penetration rises to 34% of U.S. households

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

I don?t know anyone that can afford to replace their adequately functioning TV with a $1,000 to > 2,000 HDTV in the current economy.? Especially considering the costs associated with upgrading your entire video library to HD format (iTunes digital or BlueRay).

Josh, you just need to line up wealthier friends. While there is upgrade inertia among those who don’t yet have HDTVs and HD content feeds, there are two factors that continue to drive new user adoption. One is pe-nis envy, which puts you in the metaphorically unenviable position of pe-nis denier. The other is that the mid-range of the current crop of HDTVs are better and cheaper than top of the line two years ago. The hand me down market is in full swing.

Mike Williamson

I am convinced that the form factor is absolutely paramount. Imagine a 10 inch device in one hand. It just doesn’t fit.  I think that that is simply too unwieldy.  My inclination is the 5 X 8 size. And if it includes a port for add on hardware, like a barcode scanner, this device will sell at incredible levels.

UrbanBard

Form factors are quite sticky. We constantly re-use them because they fit our bodies. This means that introducing new form factors are fraught with danger.

I think the best illustration of this is the iPod. Do you remember the old MP3 players? They were very anti-ergonomic. They were all based on the technical needs of the hardware rather than on what fitted we humans. You were expected to hold the equivalent of a 3/4 inch thick CD in your hand. There was nothing natural about that.

The point about the iPod was that, although it sacrificed some features and benefits, it fit the hand so well. The fingers cradled it while the thumb could control the click wheel. The iPod felt real—solid. It felt complete and well thought out; a joy to use. This made everything else feel clunky, awkward, ugly and pathetic.

The same concepts must hold true for the iTablet if it is to be a success. This is not a passive devise. It needs to be able to take abuse. People will forget about the devise itself as they react to what is on the screen.

It must lay in the palm vertically and horizontally. It can’t be so big that you can’t put medium sized fingers around it. It would tend to tip out of the hand as you use it, if the form factor is too big. This is especially so, if you expect a child’s small hands to fit around it.

A device which is 5 by 8 is almost too big to fit an adult’s hand well. if you place it horizontally on your palm and support it from below with the little finger, then the thumb and the index finger can’t grip it. You need to be able to grip it, because you will using finger gestures from the other hand to manipulate the screen. But you can grip it if it is 4 by 6. 

If you are using it two handed to type with your thumbs, then your thumbs need to overlap a bit. A normal sized person’s hands don’t quite comfortably meet on a 5 by 8 devise, but they do on a 4 by 6 devise.

This means to me that a 10 inch and larger screen is a display; you are meant to look at it but not react to it. The iTablet is an interactive devise, so it must fit the hands which will manipulate it.

eugenio

iPod Super touch??

has this guy been writing articles about windows products?? What planet are you from?

Joe

A 10-inch screen device would be a nice handheld compliment between a Macbook and iPod Touch. I think the top ten markets being suggested is on the mark with some practical uses for such a device. My speculation is that Apple is about to break into the eBook environment and help converge the educational publishing environment along with all the previous digital media markets. A study at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya about uses of eReaders identified why current hardware was not practical for students use. If you are looking at growth, Apple’s mainstay in education continues to be the cornerstone of widespread application to the everyday person. The Sony Reader and Kindle is really dull and I can’t believe the concept of having a traveling book is the only scope these “visionaries” could put together. 

A fair amount of books in my library have about a 10-inch diagonal surface and it’s just the right size for when you need a digital keyboard. Yes, reading a book is nice but Apple has the technology down to do so much more of making an educational or everyday tablet (eTablet) that lets you highlight your text, cut and paste citations, and link references to the web. Better yet, I could use half the screen for interactive iChat and another portion for displaying information. Something I reckon to Job’s original roadmap of the Knowledge Navigator. There’s potentially billions at stake in rolling out a device that every student from elementary to professional schools can pull their information from - textbooks and media from an iTunes library (Think iTunes University).

UrbanBard

I’m not disagreeing with you, joe. I just believe that a 7 and a 10 inch screen would serve different markets. I’ve no idea which market Apple would choose to serve.

A 7 inch screen would a larger handheld devise. You could use it on the go—on the bus. In my youth, I could read a paperback book and walk at the same time. No doubt today’s youth could do the same. The point is that it would always be at hand. Most likely, it would be a single user devise—not something you would share with others.

The 10 inch screen would be used as a stationary devise. It needs to be supported, especially if it had a keyboard, so it would be used while sitting down to replace a netbook. The screen is barely large enough so that you could share it with an intimate friend.

Pedant

*deviCe

Jensen

I disagree with the assertion that a device that hooks directly into the tv (a “box”) is a niche market. Everyone has a tv, and everyone wants to make that tv more useful. An Apple tablet is something that has no attraction for me. A more useful Apple TV, on the other hand, would be great…one that hooks into all the best services such as Hulu and Netflix but delivers it with the Apple style and with iTunes/iTMS access included. That’s something that Apple could do very easily. 

Of course, if Apple comes out with an unlimited movie rental service (streaming) like Netflix, then it could effectively move to squash Netflix (and maybe Hulu) instead of working with them). But it just doesn’t have enough content/flexibility on the standard Apple tv to be able to do that yet.

Final point: right now it’s a software issue, not hardware. I love the Apple tv the way it is physically. Let’s just get access to more content, and we’ll be there.

an aside:
Anyone who thinks an Apple tablet would turn mainsteam is deluded. There has been no sign that consumers want something like that. They already have that in an iPhone. I want to watch media when I’m not at my TV, I’ll use my iPhone, not some clunky small screen device that is not portable enough to put in my pocket.

flypod

I dunno.  I’m not sold on any of this….  Maybe if you took an AppleTV, and merged it with a netbook concept you might have something, but it all makes me go “meh” right now.  I think the concept of a device that is always portable (never hooked to TV) and has a 10in screen (even with touch) is silly.  I wouldn’t want one of those.
I love the idea of the apple TV, but its not really advancing and we can see the success netflix could have.

There’s a lot left to the imaginings above - I don’t think it is on target - yet…

Log-in to comment