The “Say What?” Moment for Apple’s Tablet

| Hidden Dimensions

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

-- General George S. Patton

All of us who write about Apple are weighing in today about what the Apple tablet will be like, features, speeds and feeds. I've already done that, so, instead, I'm going to provide some tips that will help put the announcement on Wednesday in perspective.

Here's perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind as you learn about the Apple tablet tomorrow.

The very people the Apple tablet is aimed at are, by and large, not the people who will be writing about it tomorrow.

What that means is that technical writers have already decided on their tools and workflow. I have called it the process of staging:

"There may be a desktop computer or server at home with terabytes of storage, a printer, and a big screen. When on travel, one takes, say, a MacBook. But at the destination, there are times when lugging the MacBook around doesn't make sense. So it stays in the office or host's house, and one takes the iPhone to lunch or the amusement park. There is a clear-cut sequence of lightening the load based on the environment and needs. Call it sequential staging, like a rocket booster."

And that's where most business people, technical professionals, and writers are right now. They can't conceive of another device that they need to carry around, so there will be plenty of articles tomorrow that predict failure for the Apple tablet.

This is not the target audience for the Apple tablet.

The Changing Face of Youth and Entertainment

I got an e-mail the other day from a marketing consultant that summarized the situation for younger people connected to the Internet. They use it in ways that many older adults do not.

"Kids don't watch much TV with us anymore. They use their Roku units. They log onto their favorite shows. They YouTube oldies but goodies. They watch shows from Spain, France and Mexico. They're watching how-to YouTube segments. They watch the stuff on their smartphones and their notebooks...not the TV. That's got Tellywood worried because they don't control that much anymore."

That's an approximate way of saying that adults who are immersed in business technology aren't that well versed on what teenagers and young people are doing with the Internet, how they communicate, and how they entertain themselves. Yesterday, I noted:

"So when Apple puts a video camera and an FM radio in an iPod nano, it's not just featuritis, it's a fundamental recognition of the ways in which young people communicate and entertain themselves."

The "Say What?" Moment

Jeff Gamet and I have had a theory for a long time that there will be a few moments in Wednesday's demo that will create a cognitive dissonance for many. There will be a feature presented that will, at first, seem crazy or irrelevant -- or even incomprehensible. The full impact of the feature and technology will only become apparent after a week or so of examination. After all, Apple has had years to think about how this product will fit into our lives, perhaps in ways we haven't realized we needed. Don't be surprised if that Apple understanding of what we need, but haven't yet had, takes us by surprise at first blush.

But then, in a week or so, we'll all transition from the "Say what?" moment to the "Aha!" moment.

Look for that tomorrow.

Hitting the Market Running, Hardware is Secondary

Once we understand how the Apple tablet is intended to be used by customers who have a need for it: students, doctors, pilots, young people on the move, people who've given up on cable and satellite TV, gamers, people who can't afford a big HDTV home theater, laboratory researchers, scientists and engineers in the field, librarians and book fans, information specialists ... and so on, then we'll start to understand why the hardware was designed the way it was. So talking about the hardware specifications today without understanding the target market, to be revealed tomorrow, doesn't make sense to me.

As you read about the news of the Apple tablet or watch a the videocast later, look for these "Say What?" moments that will startle and delight you. All will become clear in the next few weeks as we come to fully understand what has been revealed to us.

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Bryan Chaffin

Fantastic analysis, John!


Excellent analysis, as usual. Tech pundits always hate what Apple produces. If it were up to them we’d still be working on main frames.


This sounds to me like an apology for the fact that a tablet device is a product in search of a market. Sure, Jobs knows how to turn on the wow factor, and I’m sure there will be some cool multi-touch gestures demoed, but from everything I’ve heard this is going to be a large expensive iPhone.

Let’s take a look at your proposed target markets:
1) students. Not good. Students need to type. A lot.
2) doctors. I assume you’re talking about the “walking around making notes” model. This implies stylus input which I doubt Apple is going to give us, and you can’t type standing up with both hands while you’re holding a tablet. Tablet computers already exist for these sorts of applications and they’ve met with limited acceptance.
3) pilots. So while you’re piloting the plane, you hold the tablet with one hand and… oh wait, you need at least one hand on the stick.
4) young people on the move. They want electronics they can stick in their pockets and purses. Apple already has this market covered with the iPhone.
5) people who’ve given up on cable and satellite TV. I’m one of those people, and I have no interest in this device. I watch stuff both on my laptop and on my HDTV streaming from the internet. I don’t see why I would want a tablet.
6) gamers. The iPhone is a neat casual gaming thingy, but I doubt very much that Apple intends to compete in the XBox/Playstation/Wii market.
7) people who can’t afford a big HDTV home theater… also can’t afford a fancy laptop that doesn’t even have a keyboard.
8) laboratory researchers, scientists and engineers in the field… I think what I said about doctors holds here as well.
9) librarians and book fans. OK, maybe Apple is trying to release a Kindle killer. Its rumored to be a lot more expensive than the Kindle, and it won’t initially have Amazon’s book selling infrastructure or content. Jobs also has said many times he doesn’t think people read much these days. I’m not sure that this market alone justifies all the hype this thing is getting. It’s not going to have an e-ink screen either.
10) information specialists ... Whatever. They probably want a keyboard.


Yes, excellent post. I especially appreciate the reminder that the folks who will be “analyzing” the tablet come tomorrow will most likely not be the target market.

Lee Dronick

but from everything I?ve heard this is going to be a large expensive iPhone

I have yet to hear anything concrete from Apple. Tomorrow we’ll see


This sounds to me like an apology for the fact that a tablet device is a product in search of a market. Sure, Jobs knows how to turn on the wow factor, and I?m sure there will be some cool multi-touch gestures demoed, but from everything I?ve heard this is going to be a large expensive iPhone.

Let?s take a look at your proposed target markets: -snip-

Sorry but your “analysis” reads exactly like that which John Martellaro described in his piece.

Bryan Chaffin

In a nutshell, csimmons. smile

What John describes is, I think, something that most of us do at one time or another, and I think it’s pretty easy to be blissfully unaware when you’re doing it.


I’m not sure we will see tomorrow, Sir Harry. Nor I am sure all will become clear in a few weeks, John.

It could take months, or even a year or two, before we really know if this is another hobby; or if this new creation is a mind-blowing, game-changing product that will propel us to a new valhalla and turn its creator into a 100 billion dollar company. My guess is one or the other; my hope is the latter.

I can’t see a bigger iPhone, or a smaller laptop (aka the MacBook Air killer) just around the corner. Those who can are, I think, those who will declare a “failure-to-launch”, because it doesn’t ignite the “Say What?”


Graxpoo, let’s look at your comments:

1. Student typing: Yeah, so? Do you know this is not easily done on this device? No.
2. Doctors: Have you heard of tables and countertops? Try one sometime.
3. Pilots: Heard of autopilot?  Co-pilots? Voice recognition?
4. Young people on the move: You don’t know what people will adapt to do. Before cell phones nobody thought of carrying around a phone all day. Before pants with pockets everyone wore britches with no pockets and carried big pouches.
5. Video: Since you don’t know what the device allows, how do you know it’s not suitable for your needs?
6. Gaming: Again, you don’t know. My guess is that gaming will move to these informal, mobile devices.
7. Big HDTV Home Theater vs. tablet: You think these two costs are going to be equivalent?
8. LABS: I work in one. Such a device would be very handy depending on accessories and applications. So you’re wrong here.
9. Librarians/readers: Again, what’s “a lot more expensive”? And you seriously think Apple won’t have a “store” that rivals Amazon, at least for content suitable for the device? E-Ink—you think not having it is a drawback, that there is simply no other solution?
10. IT/keyboards: How do you know you can’t type on it, or have a USB or BT keyboard when needed?


I think that Graxpoo is missing the spirit of the article, which is saying “if you think you know what this needs to succeed, you are probably wrong because you don’t know what Apple is really thinking”.

We’ve all discussed the possibilities of tablets for years, and all tablets have been, in essence, failures due to just the sort of issues Graxpoo brings up. I find it difficult to imagine that Apple doesn’t see that, and so I am just waiting to see what they have come up with.


The “aha!” moment for me with my iPhone wasn’t about the phone or the iPod—I already had those. It was the fact that the Internet was in my pocket. The iPhone completely changed the way I thought about looking up information, whether using Google Maps, Safari, weather, or communicating with email. Other phones had WAP browsers but that certainly wasn’t the same as having Safari.

Also, I wonder if the new device will use Inkwell for handwriting recognition. You just don’t hear about that much. Indeed, Apple buries it in the Accessibility features of OS X.

Bryan Chaffin

I’ve often thought of Inkwell, jbruni, and wondered why Steve showed it off so proudly only to shut it away for so long.


The tablet design and who it is intended for will hopefully make the tablet a success finally… it needs to feel like putty as an interface, you need to feel that it responds to your touch… too many previous tablets with their stylus’ felt disconnected, and less approachable than using a keyboard even.

With the ideas that the iphone may have a gesture system on the back of it, hopefully points the way that the tablet will have features that make it the obvious product, and not just a laptop, with no keyboard that you can’t put on your lap.

The laptop may be years old now, but it works because you can balance it without thinking on your knees, and angle the screen to your view of vision… in a way it is more user friendly than your desktop machine… at present tablet machines are like holding a clipboard… lets hope they solve all the problems inherit in the concept.


There is one more possibility here that nobody is thinking about. Remember “New Coke”? What was its point? It wasn’t to _replace_ the old Coke, but to draw attention away from the fact that Coca Cola was changing the recipe of the old Coke to corn syrup. When everybody “clamored” for the old Coke, nobody really remembered what it tasted like, and they gladly accepted the new old Coke, and never gave it a second thought. If Coke had just changed the recipe, it would have been a flop. By proclaiming a “new” recipe that paled in comparison to the new old, they guaranteed the success of the _real_ new Coke.

Now, we can bet that the iPhone will probably get the ability to deal with keyboards and do multi-tasking. It would be nice if it could also handle a larger screen resolution, and maybe be just a tad bit bigger, without also making it no longer hand-holdable. I suspect that _that_ is the new tablet. If Apple produces something larger, it will draw attention away from these changes on the iPhone, and deflect criticism from the fact that Apple UP TO NOW has NOT offered these items which are, IMO, no-brainers.

And if this new tablet is any success (or even released), that will be icing. But I have my suspicions that the real news will be missed by everybody.

Actually, like John said, regardless of what is produced tomorrow, the real news will most likely be overlooked by everyone until later—and most importantly, will be overlooked by Apple’s competitors. They will concentrate on those non-essentials, and overlook the news that will be their demise, just like they did with the iPod and iPhone. Interesting, and fun speculation. wink


Dean Lewis

Whenever people talk about not being able to type or otherwise control a tablet, I just think of Star Trek, where actors have been portraying just that sort of thing since the 1960s. Well, actually, they used stylii in the 60s show, but since the 80s they used one hand to hold the pad, the other hand to type and gesture, and voice to dictate and command. Seems pretty simple to me once the OS design, the hardware and the power is all designed. For every person like graxpoo who say, “No way; it’s impossible” there are plenty of others who say, “Oh yeah? Watch this!” Thank goodness for them.

How close are we to my Star Trek PADD? One day away maybe? The Kindle is very close, too, so I suspect we’ll be even closer. Hell, I’ve read about holograms that you can feel now, and we are getting better and better motion recognition and control in gaming systems, so I suspect holodecks are closer than we expect, too. smile


It’s interesting to hear people talk about all the failures and shortcomings this new device has without it having been announced. I say good because that means there not thinking what I’m thinking and I have a plan for the tablet that will revolutionize how we interact and store data!

Keep your head in the sand guys and people like myself will contnually amaze you and make you say, “why didn’t I think of that?”


As other comments have suggested, graxspoo falls exactly into the category of analysis that John’s decrying, especially with the line ‘I don?t see why I would want a tablet’.

Step back a second - is your opinion relevant? Or does that just mean that you are not part of the target market for this product?

Now, personally, if I look what the other half does with my Macbook, it’s surfing the Internet from the sofa while watching TV, and occasional Skype video chats with the parents. She very rarely uses the iMac, and rarely types anything longer than a Facebook status update (something a lot of people now do using their phones anyway).

I think her needs could easily be met by a tablet. And then I could get my Macbook back.

Then there are the new possibilities it opens, as a control surface - there are touch-screen based graphics devices, and musical instruments - but they are ridiculously expensive as they are niche markets.

A device you can easily sketch on, that can easily throw up a synth keyboard, etc - these are things existing forms (including stylus controlled tablets) cannot do.

And those are obvious ideas (they already exist, just not at this form factor).

Oh, and the key thing that separates this from any other tablet design - an existing library of thousands of applications that are already designed for touch control. At a trivial level, it’s going to be a pretty good games machine.

Joe Blow

Maybe they did not include a web-camera so they could invent some hardware/software to “work around” Skype’s patents and corner the market on web-based video conferencing with an iConference platform when they introduce version 2.0 in December ‘10.  If this were the case, it is a bad strategy because they could accomplish the same thing by simply coming out with a better software app. then Skype, but including a camera now so as not to alienate all the would-be early adopters who now are forced to wait for the web-camera version to come out in 10 months.  Comments?

Joe Blow

Also, the name, iPad, reeks and has vaguely gross connotations.  Why not call it an iBook or iTablet, even an iSlate is better than iPad.


iBook has already been done. iTablet is already trademarked by AMteK.


I expected a video camera, but I also expected something costing $999 - my guess is that it simply wasn’t feasible to create something that could do a good job of real-time video iChat at the price point they were aiming for.

(You only need to think of iChat performance on the iBook / Macbook - it’s only recently become good outside of demo situations)


Just been reading some of the comments on GIZMODO. Apart from bad language being used to emphasise opinionated views, it is striking how many of the critical opinions come from people who clearly have very well-defined computer usage and find hard to imagine other people with quite different needs. Lack of camera? “A deal-breaker!”. Lack of Flash? “Absolutely stupid of Apple!”. And etc..

If however Flash becomes even more widely used (like VHS-Flash v Betamax-H.264?), then I would assume that Apple would have to bend in the breeze. However the battle is on-going.

In a long-winded way, I’m saying your analysis is spot on, John.

Lee Dronick

If however Flash becomes even more widely used (like VHS-Flash v Betamax-H.264?), then I would assume that Apple would have to bend in the breeze.

Or perhaps the bend would be in the other direction. If the most popular mobile browser can not see Flash then it is time for the website to “flex”.


@Sir Harry
How does Flex compare with HTML 5/H.264? And does Flex include or use Flash? Or does it replace Flash (ultimately)?

I understand that Apple wants control over the whole widget, and that they therefore see the proprietary Flash as outwith their control. Also, I understand that Apple is allergic to Flash’s performance and/or its battery draining characteristics. Would Flex be better or less proprietorial?


Lee Dronick

How does Flex compare with HTML 5/H.264? And does Flex include or use Flash? Or does it replace Flash (ultimately)?

The link to Flex was word play on bend. However, I stand by thought that if page visitors can not see Flash content then the designers may start using something else, something better.


Spotted the wordplay!
Just wondered whether there is more to Flex than wordplay.

Thanks anyway, Sir Harry.

Lee Dronick

Just wondered whether there is more to Flex than wordplay.

It seems to go down better with a cup of Java, but it looks interesting with a lot of possibilities. However, using my iPhone I just visited Adobe’s Flex website and followed some links to examples, many seem to be Flashy.


Thought the examples might be Flashy, but I’m not techy enough to know.

Thanks again, Sir Harry.


Lee Dronick

hought the examples might be Flashy, but I?m not techy enough to know.

On the iPhone you can see that you can not see Flash content, just a missing plugin icon and sometimes an error message.

On my Macs I have Click to Flash installed.


Yes. I use click-to-flash too. This was prompted by watching Activity Monitor.

All my PCs (and 5 faulty PS3s) run Folding@Home for Stanford University. After a Restart on any of my Macs, I always check to see if F@H is running OK. One time I noticed that a high percentage of CPU power was being used by Safari/Flash when nothing else was active. Flash was spinning my wheels wastefully!

It’s fine now after installing click-to-flash.

There’s a Mac OS X Team at Folding@Home. I hope all you guys with spare capacity will support it, after all I am now over 70 and may need research on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases etc. to be successful !!



Flex is a library built on top of Flash, for writing applications, in the same way that Capuccino is for writing applications on top of web technologies.

If you think of Flash as being a programming language for drawing things, Flex is more about developing applications, in the same way that Cocoa is for Objective-C on the Mac.

There are similar options for developing applications that run in the web browser without Flash . . . but you have to remember that they don’t work well in earlier versions of Internet Explorer OR they limit you to what does work in Internet Explorer.

One interesting project out there is Gordon, which lets people take things developed in Flash, and run them directly in the browser (even Safari on the iPhone). On my Macbook it performs better than Flash. It’s a long way from being a 100% replacement, but it does show one way things could go.

Lee Dronick

Flex is a library built on top of Flash, for writing applications, in the same way that Capuccino is for writing applications on top of web technologies.

Thanks for explaining that Jules.


Thanks from me too, Jules.

I’m surprised Gordon is as efficient as you found it.


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