Which Path Will Apple’s Tablet Take?

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

For the moment, we remain standing at such a fork in the road, waiting for Apple to announce and ship its long-rumored tablet computer.

Will Apple’s tablet follow the path begun by laptop computers, working much like a variation of the MacBook Air, at least in terms of its software? Or it will it follow the ground broken by the iPhone instead?

Apple presumably already knows the answer, but has not yet revealed it. That’s why we’re standing here…waiting. What I do know is that Apple’s decision here may well make “all the difference.”

Most current speculation assumes that Apple is taking the iPhone path. An article from yesterday’s New York Times cites common predictions that the tablet will be “like the iPhone with a much bigger screen” and that all iPhone App Store apps “will immediately work on the new tablet while developers begin to tailor new software for the larger screen.” Apple is expected “to sell such a device by early next year.”

Most analysts have a favorable view of this approach. The take is something like this:

“Rather than trying to compete directly with current netbook designs and possibly falling victim to Steve Jobs’ assessment of these computers as ‘junk,’ Apple instead intends to build on the huge and still growing appeal of the iPhone, offering a gorgeous and ground-breaking iPhone-like device. If things go well, an iPhone-tablet could eventually dominate the netbook/tablet market in a manner comparable to the current success of the iPod and the iPhone.”

An exciting prospect, at least for Apple and its supporters. There is some worry about who exactly represents the market for an iPhone-tablet. It’s too big to carry around in your pocket but too small and too iPhone-like to be a total laptop alternative. So where does it fit in? For the moment, let’s assume that Apple solves this dilemma. What then?

Here is where I return to the divergent paths.

On numerous prior occasions (as in this article), I have lamented the closed-box nature of the iPhone — as compared to the wide-open Mac. Imagine if this were to change, but in the “wrong” direction. Imagine if Macs became as closed as the iPhone. To see what I mean, imagine that, whenever Apple gets around to announcing Mac OS X 10.7, its press release goes something like this:

“The new Mac OS X 10.7 includes many exciting innovations. At the top of the list: You will now be able to run all your favorite iPhone App Store apps directly on your Mac. That’s because Mac OS X 10.7 is based on the popular iPhone OS. 

True, you will no longer be able to add any applications to your Mac except those available in the App Store. This also means that all apps will have to be approved by Apple before you can install them. But, with over one million fantastic apps already in the App Store, and new ones added every day, this will hardly matter. To make things even simpler and more reliable for our customers, Mac OS X 10.7 will no longer permit any access to Library and UNIX folders. We’ve also eliminated most of the software in Mac OS X’s Utilities folder, including Terminal and Disk Utility.

All of your existing applications will no longer work in Mac OS X 10.7. But don’t worry. The new OS ships with 10.7 compatible versions of our iLife and iWork software. Other major vendors, such as Microsoft and Adobe, are already hard at work updating their software for 10.7. Microsoft Office has today announced a 10.7 compatible version of Office, due out in just three years.”

Okay. Apple’s press release would not likely read exactly like that. But you get the point. If such an announcement came today, it would be met with outrage; Mac users would revolt. Yet if the forthcoming Apple tablet follows the iPhone path, the above press release comes close to describing its features. Despite this, there is little sign of concern, never mind outrage.

In truth, I can understand this. Expanding the iPhone interface to a tablet seems like a natural for Apple; I look forward to this device as much as anyone. Despite the drawbacks.

But there’s a larger concern. If an iPhone-tablet succeeds in the marketplace, Apple might well leverage the success and extend the interface to other Macs. Five, maybe ten, years from now, most traditional OS X-based MacBooks and even iMacs could be gone — having migrated to some variation of the iPhone OS. The traditional Mac OS X would remain on some models, targeted for professionals and server administrators. But they would be the minority. For the majority of Mac users, it would mean the end of the open Mac.

True, we are a far distance from this scenario. Some may argue that nothing this extreme is ever likely to happen. But I believe it’s not that far-fetched — and certainly worth contemplating. As Robert Frost wrote, once you embark upon a chosen path, “knowing how way leads on to way,” it becomes doubtful that you can “ever come back.” Before we merrily join Apple down this road, let’s at least consider whether it’s the one we really want to take.

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Comments

seabeast

i don’t get it! the tablet like device is still only a rumor and we got plenty articles speculating about what the device may look like.  ok… that’s a funny way to pass time.

but now, we got an article that is trying to do projection in ten years from now based on today’s speculation and rumor !!!

we may be close, or not, about speculating of the next Apple’s device but please, keep the projection article based on the today’s facts.  If not, I’ll do a projection; next article will be science fiction.

John Martellaro

IMO, a gradual change—and Apple does like gradual transformations—as you describe would take so long that there would be plenty of opportunity for Apple to figure out how to meet the needs of both camps.

Ted Landau

but now, we got an article that is trying to do projection in ten years from now based on today?s speculation and rumor !!!

I write a variety of different types of articles…from troubleshooting and how-to articles…to opinion and speculation. This is obviously in the latter category. To me, just because something is far down the road doesn’t make it off limits.

Heck, economists are predicting what the deficit may be like in 10 years. Politicians are already handicapping the 2012 presidential election. Scientists are predicting the effects of global warming a few decades hence.

I thought it might be worth thinking about the future of Apple’s computers. My whole point was that, by the time it is a reality, thinking about it will no longer be of any practical use. It will be a done deal.

Photodan

Who is to say that shouldn’t be the next shift in operating systems? If that kind of device will do the things that most of the public will want a computer to do, what’s the problem?

Ted Landau

Who is to say that shouldn?t be the next shift in operating systems?

You’re absolutely right. Some may view it as progress. Lamenting about the “old” Mac way may be equivalent to someone lamenting that they can’t buy a car with a manual transmission anymore.

For me personally, with my interests in troubleshooting and tinkering, I view the lack of OS access as a negative. Similarly, as someone who prefers to be the “decider” of what software can or cannot be installed on my Mac, who doesn’t want Apple as a sort of parent in charge, I similarly don’t like it. But I may well turn out to be in the minority. I just wanted people to actively consider this future, rather than passively accept it.

Bregalad

I think that’s great food for thought.

If the MacOS closes up like the iPhone I’d definitely leave, but my parents wouldn’t.

seabeast

Heck, economists are predicting what the deficit may be like in 10 years. Politicians are already handicapping the 2012 presidential election. Scientists are predicting the effects of global warming a few decades hence.

economists, politicians and scientists are all trying to predict the future, I agree.  there prediction can be good or wrong, I don’t care.  my point is that they do their best to make predictions based on today’s fact.

I also agree that we can think about the future of mac OSX. but what’s the point of basing this thinking with a starting point of something that doesn’t even exist!  there we are falling in fiction.

Ted Landau

my point is that they do their best to make predictions based on today?s fact.

The iPhone OS is a fact today. Regardless of what happens with a tablet, I believe that the concerns I raise regarding the OS and future Macs are real. Beyond that, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

Ted Landau

A follow-up to what I just commented: In case it isn’t clear, the reason I think the concern is real is because I believe Apple would view my suggested future as a positive outcome. I am sure that Apple thinks that its strict control over the iPhone OS is just wonderful. If they could somehow extend the concept to the Mac, without much protest from users, they would do so in a heartbeat.

parv

Apple is going to have three different operating systems: iPhone,
mac osx and mac osx server. Most people will use the iPhone os
via a tablet or iPhone/iPod touch. Why? Because the iPhone os is
what most people need. Most people are consumers of information
(esp via the web or iPhone apps) and the iPhone os will be sufficient.
They will need some editing tools like some sort of office application etc
Here apple will provide an iWork and iLife for the iPhone. They will be good enough for most people. Why will apple do this? Because this mobile market is growing much faster than the mac osx market. The iPhone os market is ARM focussed while the mac osx is 486 based. Apple has the advantage in the ARM market unlike in the 486 market. It is the market leader in the nos of apps available for the ARM market - again unlike in the 486 market where Windows dominates.

It is important for Apple that the mobile market is ARM based and not 486. If it becomes 486 then companies will just transfer their desktop apps to the mobile market. But they cannot do this if ARM becomes the dominant force in the mobile market. (I do not consider laptops mobile in this context).

The mac osx market will continue because it will mainly be used by information creators eg Photoshop, Final Cut, Office, programmers. This platform will remain open since apple does not gain any advantage in bein closed like the iPhone os.

MaX

The Apple Tablet should run Mac OS X 10.6 (touch version) to be really useful. To carry your Mac with your home directory with you. Always. That is the key to success. Now, add video-out and USB2 ports on a 400 to 600 g small device (with remote control) and you have the perfect Keynote and PowerPoint presentation tool.

eugenio

Oh this is suddenly so obvious! The Macbook Air’s are being run out - for the tablet variant! and there are new wireless keyboards due too.

YodaMac

Sorry, I just cant get past the point you so quickly dismissed - what’s the use of a tablet?

Sure, Apple can design a wonderful touch-OS experience on the side of a dirigible if they wanted to… but if nobody uses it - what’s the point.

As you pointed out, a tablet falls somewhere in between an iPhone in your pocket and lugging a Mac OSX Notebook in your satchel.  I just don’t see the point yet.

I’d RATHER see continued improvements to the iPhone make it as powerful a computer in your pocket “as possible”.  That, or the tablet needs to be a darned good complete replacement for the notebook.  Not some “in between” niche device.

Ted Landau

what?s the use of a tablet?

I could see a tablet being a complete replacement for a laptop for many users. If you’re traveling and want a device with a bigger screen than an iPhone and one that can run “full” apps and work with a physical keyboard as an option (so you could do light writing and/or editing in Pages, for example) ? but don’t need the equivalent of a desktop Mac to lug around ? then the tablet might just be what you want.

If this turns out not to be the case, then the tablet will indeed be in some trouble.

Ted Landau

A rumor posted today claims that the tablet will “will focus more on e-book functionality.” If so, that’s a lot different from what I have assumed here. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

James

“The iPhone OS is a fact today.”

But it was an undisclosed one a few years ago, when we were reading articles exactly like this about Apple’s then “alleged” iPhone. When it was finally revealed it was beyond any of our wildest dreams and instantly set the bar for all pocket devices since.

Why would I want a tablet? Larger area for touchscreen drawing, rss feeds, e-books, surfing, documents, email, video/photo editing, also fun stuff like video games, movies . . . the list is endless. I am an artist and don’t need Word for my work; my iPhone actually handles my mobile computing needs really well as it is. A faster processor and a larger screen coupled with that awesome functionality is an absolute no brainer for me, and I can tell you that it’s the same for my peers.

Personally, I think we are in the verge of another computing breakthrough here. Once again we’ll be seeing an entirely new set of tools emerge, and I am personally very excited.

paulbrainerd

I could envision the Tablet being a full-fledged Mac and having the horsepower equal to that of a MacBook. I think the touch screen experience is going to resemble that of i.e. CNN’s election board screen graphics. You’ll virtually flip through pages of books and magazines. You’ll park icons and files on the fly with the free flowing touch of your fingers.Gestures, gestures & more gestures. And then of course, there will be no more college book store rip-offs to return used books. All of your text curriculum will be download to the Tablet at the beginning of the Semester. In fact, you will even use the Tablet to take your exams in the classroom. With the advent of 4G, you will rely on the Tablet even more as your video news and entertainment source whenever in transit. As for Ted’s concerns of the Road Less Traveled…....... if Apple doesn’t do it, somebody else will. **CapMac Austin**

davesmall

I’ve been thinking about this for some time too.  I can envision a number of possibilities. Consider for instance:

The engineering investment in the iPhone gave Apple two home runs: the iPhone and the iPod Touch. Two products for one engineering investment. Don’t you think they’re happy about that and will try to do it again?

->A big iPhone in tablet format with 3G connectivity with Bluetooth headset makes good sense for a number of specialized users ranging from the doctor making his rounds at the hospital to the travel tour guide and UPS delivery driver.

->A big iPod Touch can run apps from the app store. It’s the family’s shared coffee table web browser, email checker, game player, video viewer, etc.

Both of those tablet devices would need a charging stand. Why not include a keyboard and trackpad in the charging stand? Why not also include two operating systems using virtualization technology that is now widely available and well proven? Why not let these devices run the iPhone version of OS X when portable and the full version of OS X when on the charging stand? (note: In a fancier version the charging stand could be the bottom half of a laptop with detachable lid).

Apple also hit a HUGE home run when they introduced the iPod along with iTunes. The pundits grossly underestimated just how important the iPod would become. It wasn’t just an MP3 player, it was the reinvention of the entire music distribution industry worldwide.

Could Steve Jobs and Company be thinking about the publishing industry in the same way they previously thought about music distribution?  Makes a lot of sense to me.

Last week Conde Nast announced the shut down of several magazines including the long popular Gourmet. So what’s wrong with Gourmet?  Ad revenues have dropped to the point where they can’t support the large printing and distribution costs (80,000 copies). Could Gourmet Magazine be distributed via iTunes and displayed nicely on a 10” high definition color tablet screen? I think so. Would subscribers enjoy being able to search old editions for favorite recipes and articles? I think they would. Perhaps an iTablet along with a publishing section in iTunes could offer renewed vigor to one more faltering industry.

MaX

I could see a tablet being a complete replacement for a laptop for many users. If you?re traveling and want a device with a bigger screen than an iPhone and one that can run ?full? apps and work with a physical keyboard as an option (so you could do light writing and/or editing in Pages, for example) ? but don?t need the equivalent of a desktop Mac to lug around ? then the tablet might just be what you want.

If this turns out not to be the case, then the tablet will indeed be in some trouble.

Absolutely right. BTW, the MacBook Air is too heavy and too large to carry it all the time.

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