Apple’s upcoming tablet computer, which is expected to be unveiled tomorrow, has everyone talking. Let’s examine the most reliable rumors and explain why this will likely be the most important consumer electronic device since the iPhone.
The editor of our sister website, Brighthand.com, recently published an editorial about why the Apple iSlate (the likely name for Apple’s new tablet computer) might be doomed to fail. Although the team of engineers and designers at Cupertino have produced a number of flops over the years (Anyone still using an Apple Newton out there?) it’s safe to say Apple knows how to make great handheld devices.
Apple: The forbidden fruit everyone wants
Even if you’re a dedicated PC user and don’t own a MacBook, chances are good you own one of Apple’s many, many variations of the iPod. There’s a reason for this: Apple delivered a cool yet affordable MP3 player and a simple content delivery service (iTunes) that made it remarkably easy for consumers to make the transition from CDs to digital content. Likewise, the iPhone revolutionized smartphones by delivering a cool, consumer-friendly smartphone and a simple content delivery service (the App Store) to help people make the most of a versatile handheld device.
As a current tablet PC user I’m honestly looking forward to the release of an Apple tablet simply because of Apple’s track record with making handheld devices overwhelmingly popular among consumers. The reality is that tablet computers have been around for ages but there’s a reason most people don’t use them: They suck.
While that comment might seem overly harsh, a slate tablet (or convertible tablet notebook) is basically just a notebook PC with the two most useful input devices (the keyboard and the touchpad) removed in order to make it more portable. Touchscreen tablets don’t really work well with a traditional Windows-like interface designed for use with a keyboard and mouse. This is why the most successful touchscreen smartphones don’t use traditional operating systems. A successful touchscreen computer really needs an operating system that was designed from the ground up to work with a touchscreen. Say hello to my little friend … iPhone OS 4.0.
Think Different. Think The Same.
Forget Windows. Forget Mac OS X. The future interface for tablet computers will be based on smartphone operating systems. In the case of the iSlate, the new iPhone OS 4.0 will very likely serve as the heart of the user interface. Apple doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to a touchscreen interface because the iPhone operating system is already almost perfect for the iSlate.
Obviously, whatever hardware goes into the iSlate will likely be more robust than what’s inside the iPhone and iPod Touch. That said, the current iPhone OS can easily be tweaked to provide greater functionality with a larger screen, more powerful processor and better graphics. The big reason to use the iPhone OS is access to the App Store. The iPhone would have never been a success without the App Store providing all those useful (and useless) applications for consumers to use with their new toys. The same thing will hold true for the iSlate. If Apple doesn’t make it easy to put useful applications and entertaining content on the iSlate then this tablet is already as dead as the Newton.
If the iSlate is indeed released tomorrow there are a few things you can rest assured you’ll see (other than an overwhelming number of TV and magazine ads) after the announcement:
- It won’t use traditional notebook hardware. Nvidia is one of Apple’s largest partners when it comes to graphics hardware, but multiple Nvidia representatives have gone off record to state that Nvidia’s new Tegra platform will NOT be powering the iSlate. Likewise, you can probably forget about Intel’s Atom processor. While the Atom “might” be an option, the tiny Intel CPU gets hot inside extremely small, fanless enclosures and requires a massive (heavy) battery for more than 6 hours of battery life. Bottom line, Apple should be using non-traditional processors and graphics in the iSlate.
- Updated iPhone OS 4.0 for use with the iSlate and new iSlate applications available in the App Store. As stated previously, this one should be a no-brainer for Apple. Stick with what you know works.
- Priced below $999. It’s hard to speculate on exactly what Apple will try to charge for the iSlate, but it’s safe to assume that it will be more expensive than an iPhone and less expensive than a MacBook. The iSlate will essentially fill the “netbook” role in Apple’s lineup … an ultraportable computer designed to fill the gap between an iPhone and a MacBook. In other words, the iSlate is Apple’s netbook but unlike netbooks this one promises to be extremely useful.
At the end of the day we all have more questions than answers when it comes to the Apple tablet that “might” be announced tomorrow. However, one thing is an absolute certainty: Every tech journalist on the planet will be paying attention to Apple’s press event on January 27th.