Will Apple Make the Tablet Work?

by on January 3, 2008 · 2 comments

Popular Mechanics speculates that Apple is on the verge of announcing a breakthrough laptop-tablet device that’ll change computing as we know it (hyperbole deliberate):

So any Apple tablet would have to be, first and foremost, a laptop—not an über-iPhone.

I’m also requesting that the MacBook Plus fall in the ultralight realm—a sorely neglected category for Apple. It could, and should, be 2.5 pounds or less. To achieve that, the tablet should offload heavy components such as the optical drive, making do with, say, a 32 GB solid-state drive rather than a hard-disk drive…. That would let it run a full Leopard OS while delivering long battery life—hopefully using a lightweightbattery. Plus, it could probably be passively cooled, meaning no noisy, bulky fans or hot spots on the lap.

Two thoughts on why an Apple tablet would be a big deal:

First, in Apple tradition, none of these are new technologies. Apple’s core strength is not developing or touting technology but developing experience–in other words, what does technology let me do, not how many MB/sec or how many separate objects can be tracked on a touch surface. The difference between Apple’s approach and everyone else’s was never clearer than when Bill Gates introduced Microsoft’s “expensive table,” which uses multi-touch technology similar to that of Apple’s iPhone. God (and Bill Gates, maybe) only knows what I’d ever want to do with a multi-touch table–Gates suggested that it might be good for comparing cell-phone models (?!). When Jobs launched the iPhone, it was all about use, not tech features.

Second, the tablet form-factor is intriguing and offers lots of advantages, but it’s never worked right with Windows Tablet Edition. Tablets are great in meetings (they demolish the wall created by laptop screens) and are a better shape for laps than laptops ever could be–think about using a tablet on the subway, in the car, or even at your desk. Windows Tablet Edition, despite some nice flourishes (OneNote isn’t bad), doesn’t take full advantage of the hardware across the OS, and too many of the hardware designs have been uninspiring–basically bulky laptops with flip-screens bolted on as an afterthought. The current tablets are a lot like Windows Mobile phones–a category that the iPhone seems to have surpassed in popularity despite Microsoft’s ten-year or so head start.

Bottom line: If anyone can make the tablet form factor work, it’s probably Apple, so I’m looking forward to this (if, that is, the rumors have even a grain of truth to them). For many folks I know, tablets have changed the way they work, but it’s still, at this point, a niche technology. There’s no good reason why that should continue to be the case.

So is this game-changing? It just might be, in the way that the iPhone has been. The iPhone raised the bar for what a phone should do, and no one doubts that any phone on the market next year and later will be inspired by it and cop a lot of its features. An iTablet could boost Apple’s fortunes somewhat, but even more significantly, it could raise the bar for tablet computing across the market. That would be a far bigger gain and could really change that way that we interact with our computers in the years ahead.

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