One Thing’s for Sure: Apple Won’t Unveil a “Tablet Computer” on Wednesday

| Editorial

As we stand on the eve of Apple's presumed "tablet device" announcement, enough people have been asking for my thoughts that I figured I'd finally weigh in on what I expect Steve Jobs to reveal at the Yerba Buena Center in just a few hours.

I haven't said much about the much-rumored device. For one thing, there's been plenty of chatter about it already, with as much "wild-ass guessing" as reasoned speculation, and I just plain don't like to jump into that kind of whirlwind. There are also people who spend a lot more time studying what little real information is out there, and frankly, my Asian manufacturing industry resources just aren't what they used to be.

But mostly, I think it's because I haven't cared enough about it. I don't feel a gap in my technology needs right now. My desktop and (increasingly) my laptop serve my full-bore computer needs and my iPhone serves me very well as a mobile computing device. Almost every item in my once-long wishlist has been checked off, either by improvements to the phone by Apple, or more often by ingenious apps from independent developers. (I'm writing most of this article, for instance, using a terrific app from bytesquared called Doc2, which lets me create and edit Microsoft Word-compatible documents on my iPhone. Combined with its support for Google Docs, it's a tremendously useful program.)

And that's what got me thinking. I've rarely felt there was a huge something missing in my technological life, at least just before Apple revealed a new product. Apple's magic, though, has been to invent things that you never knew you wanted, but now suddenly can't live without. That goes for the iPhone, iPod -- even the original Macintosh. And that's what I believe Apple is going to unveil tomorrow. Not a "tablet computer," certainly -- those have been around for years. And not another Kindle-like eReader -- at least not as it's primary function. I don't even believe it will be merely a bigger iPhone -- what would be the point? No, if Apple is going to get me to be willing to carry around an almost-laptop-sized device and not just take my laptop, it's got to offer me something more compelling than anything I've heard before -- not just a "cooler" laptop or more powerful iPhone, but a whole new category of multi-purpose computing device. Heck, even take out the computing part from that description. To have the mass-market appeal that Apple will insist on in order to bring a device to market (let's call the AppleTV The exception that proves the rule, shall we?), it's got to be something that isn't perceived as a "computer," just like the iPod and iPhone aren't perceived as computers.

Having said all that, let's jump onto the speculation bandwagon:

I think the rumors of a 10-inch or so screen sound like the right size for device. I'll also go along with iPhone-style physical controls: One button on the front, a rocker switch for volume control and a standard headphone jack. Ports for connectivity or removable storage? Highly unlikely, but an SD Card slot is possible for getting photos from a digital camera. Speaking of cameras, I'm looking for a front-facing iSight camera so we can finally have video iChat on the go. This may be my personal bias showing, but I think it's time. In fact, I think this is much more likely than a camera on the back for taking photos, whether it's the only camera on the device or a second one.

Connectivity: WiFi for sure with added 3G networking only slightly less certain. In fact, I think 3G connectivity will be so important to the device that it will come a la the Kindle -- always available. If not free, then bundled into a larger subscription package, complete with MobileMe (perhaps expanded) synchronization and services, even including some kind of Back to My Mac feature. AT&T may be the carrier, but if it is bundled, this may be Verizon's foot in the door. And if it's not bundled, I don't think it will be carrier-exclusive, not even in the U.S. I also think it will have some kind of hardware connectivity -- for syncing and docking, yes, but mostly for hardware expansion opportunities (e.g., hardware keyboard.) Onboard storage? Anything lower than 64GB is probably too little; anything over 128GB might start pushing up the price too much, at least for now.

Music, Movies/TV and Publishing: Yes, yes and yes. I also think it will have direct access to the iTunes store for renting and purchasing TV shows and movies.

Support for Flash: Not a chance.

So what will a device like this run? I'd hope it would run existing iPhone apps, without modification. I don't think Apple's design sensibilities would allow them to just run scaled-up to fit the larger screen, though, so I'll call for them to run at iPhone resolution, perhaps as a floating window. I think it will also come with bundled productivity apps, like customized versions of Pages, iPhoto, etc. It will also run new native apps, which will be available only through a new section of the iTunes store (hopefully, more scalable than the iPhone app store has been to this point.)

Name and price: There has been no shortage of proposed names for the new device. I don't like "iTablet" because I think it associates the device too closely to current tablet computers. I also don't like "iSlate" because, well because it's just lame. There's also been some speculation that Apple will resurrect the "iBook" name it abandoned several years ago in favor of "MacBook." There's a lot to like about that name, but I'm calling it a long shot for two reasons: I think it's too soon to use for another product; and given the devices probable use as an eReader, it's could give a perception of the device that's too limiting. In fact, I'm really hoping this isn't an "i-" anything. When I saw the invitation to the event Apple sent to the press, my first thought was "Palette." Some others saw the same invitation and thought "Canvas," which I like even better. As to price, I'll call for something in the $600-800 range. Anything higher and I think it starts to cut into Apple's laptop line. Anything lower, at least for now, is probably unnecessary.

Now it's Apple's turn. Because even if I'm right about every detail above, I don't see this as a compelling device. I can do most of this with my iPhone and still have the convenience of carrying it around in my pocket. And if I do have to carry something around, I might as well just bring my laptop. I'll get more power and versatility, and won't have to lay out the extra cash for another device. But I firmly believe Apple's already thought this through and the new device will have something more, something new to offer. Something none of us have guessed. Something none of us knew we wanted.

And something that, starting tomorrow, many of us suddenly won't be able to live without.

Comments

geoduck

Agreed. I also am not seeing how this would be a compelling Must Buy. I’m having trouble getting where this would fit in between the iPhone and the bottom MacBook. As far as the name, Canvas is used by a fairly popular drawing program. I doubt that Apple would risk another infringement lawsuit and I doubt that whomever owns it now would sell such a well known name. Palette sounds good.

AceNet-Alan

Well done on the title; my first reaction was “WHAT!?”, followed by “Oh, wait, I see what you’re saying.”

I agree with you on the price range, but disagree with you on the naming. Personally, I am not putting lots of wight into the issue, but nevertheless believe that the “i” in their naming is an Apple product identifier that they have realized as valuable and essential to product line differentiation. Otherwise, the name “iPhone” wouldn’t have seen the light of day, ad would have been called “Apple Phone” or something like that.

aa

iPad?

ibuck

Size & weight are crucial to me. The iPhone & iPod Touch are too small for my Boomer eyes and the keyboard too small and error prone, even in landscape. Light weight is essential for serious, lengthy reading, and 12 ounces or less would be key, IMHO.

For its name, call it the iPallette, or iPal for short.

Dan Robinson

I disagree. There is a get-rich niche between the iPhone and the MacBook. It is the perfect slot for a slate.

My reasoning is:
a) The iPhone is too small for serious reading and the Macbook is too big for constant carrying.
b) Print publications are in serious trouble. This could be their saving. Count on them to promote their content on the iPad/iSlate bigtime.
c) The format is perfect for distributing content. I can see universities requiring the iSlate of all students, and providing textbooks in that format instead of printed books.
d) The Kindle and Nook both use e-paper. It’s hard to read.
e) Netbooks are good but are miniature computers.
f) If the iSlate can run both iPhone and Macintosh Apps and provide content over a 3G connection like the iPhone (but through a better provider) then the playing field has just changed completely.

Guest

If Apple will be marketing the new device to the global market, then it will be AT&T or T-Mobile; Verizon didn’t follow international network standards the last time I checked, so completely different HW would be necessary, which wouldn’t give Apple the scale they need to be profitable.

Drew

iDo as in I do it all?  I think iPad has the best chance and ring to it.  Otherwise maybe one of these; iAm, iHand, iView.

Jay

I love my iphone but have you ever tried to watch a 2 hour movie with it on an airplane? Realistically the iphone screen is not large enough to be a viable e-book reader either. If you don’t need your laptop for work then toting the ipad around should prove easier. I think it can’t be overstated how huge video conferencing will be with the built-in web cam! Due to it’s awesome gaming potential you will now bring tons of windows users into the apple fold! Forget finding the middle ground between an iphone and an entry macbook; Mac lovers will find their way to this ipad. It is the windows users that will suddenly see the light! That will be the real game changer!

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

At least tomorrow, the speculation will end. We’ll be treated with a whole bunch of “this is the greatest thing ever” posts or we’ll read reams of “what are they thinking?”. Unless it’s a real Mac, I’m guessing the latter.

Jan

Whatever it is - iwant!

Sevag Minassian

I remember Steve saying (when they renamed the Laptops MacBooks) that they wanted to have Mac in the name of their products. Which naturally leads me to believe this new product (if it exists) would be named MacPad… or MacPalette It seems to follow their nomenclature. Although I think they prefer 2 syllable variants. MacPad. So let it be said, so let it be done!

Jon

Roll up A4-sized ?intelligent plastic? display. iNews.

iVoid

If Apple will be marketing the new device to the global market, then it will be AT&T or T-Mobile; Verizon didn?t follow international network standards the last time I checked, so completely different HW would be necessary, which wouldn?t give Apple the scale they need to be profitable.

I know their voice network is not the same as AT&T and international, but is their 3G data network that different? This device wouldn’t necessarily have a phone component, so just enough electronics to handle Verizon’s 3G data network is all they need.

Bosco anbd Sevag: Yeah, the rumors and Apple’s/Steve’s recent love of the iPhone locked down neutered environment, make me VERY worried that this will just be a big iPhone with only what Apple wants us to do on it available. Not a Mac OS X device. Sadly, I have no interest in a large iPhone (I only accept the limitations of the iPhone because it does mostly what I want in a phone sized unit) so would pass big time on it if it doesn’t run Mac OS X programs.

Jonesy

Here I am again reading yet another write up on the iDontCareWhatItsCalled.  Yet this one really made me think.  Why do I want it so bad?  I completely agree with what you’ve written.  Now I’m just going stop reading anything related to the announcement and hope that Apple produces the “I can’t live without product”.

John Dingler

The thesis of this article seems to be, “Apple’s Steve Jobs is likely to create demand for a category of product for which previously there was little or no demand.”

Of the dozens of articles speculating or prognosticating about the likely new device that I have read, no more than a handful have employed this thesis.

aviduser

iPad.

graxspoo

I think the tablet, whatever its called, is going to be a big flop. I wish that Apple would get serious about home media consumption though. AppleTV pretty much blows, and there still isn’t a good solution for syncing multiple iTunes libraries and playing the content anywhere in your house.

John Dingler

Hi Graxspoo,

The syntax that you employ in, “I think the tablet, whatever its called, is going to be a big flop,” means that you think that the device will flop because it’s going to be called something so, from what you say, I guess that it could succeed, but only if the device remained unnamed. You don’t explain how you think that Apple could successfully pull off this novel trick.

I am almost sure that you did not intend to convey that idea. However, along with your response’s generally negative tenor, your dour prediction about the device, as well as your choice of handle—which quite revealingly contains “poo” as in either “poo poo,” or “feces,” perhaps indicating your level of self-worth—gives you away as likely being an irrational, perhaps troubled personality when it comes to Apple products.

fo

We have several computers in our home, and all of us have iPhones as well. Guess which gets more use these days? The iPhone by an easy margin. My wife in particular has taken to having it by her side at all times so she can check her mail, read the paper, search Google, and… most importantly… text with the kids and friends.

The biggest problem with the whole arrangement is the tiny size of the screen on the iPhone. Great in a pinch, but hard on the eyes for extended use (we’re 50, btw). If only we could get a large, thin, light screen that did much of the same thing as the iPhone,. We wouldn’t consider it redundant… it would be a great companion as we watch TV or even eat breakfast (while reading the local news). It would also free up the computer for uses more worthy of its power.

I see a hit here.

woode

Woah! “Canvas” ... I like! Probably won’t be it, though.

jecrawford

iPad? Discriminates against men.
Will it have wings?

aviduser

iPad.

Just want to say: CALLED IT!

Cheers,

aviduser

geri

why can’t there be an IChat program on this IPAD so we could talk and see the family…
geri

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