I still think the best rumor I ever heard about Apple was going to be the iPod that hovered 4 feet off the ground and doubled as a beer coaster. Well at least it would have a purpose.
Which brings us to this ever growing rumor about a Mac Tablet like device.
Okay so lets look at some history first. Tablets as you see them now have never really sold well. These are the machines that the display swivels around and becomes a tablet otherwise the rest of the time it;s a normal looking laptop with keyboard. Beside the obvious structural flaws in these designs, it really is just a matter of available market. Who are the consumers buying these things? Well the classic argument is that artists who want to draw on the screen directly as well specialized fields like doctors offices and construction sites. ( think Panasonic tough book ) Do general consumers really want a device like this… well not really.
Okay so lets fast forward a little bit and look at today’s smart phone market. Touch screen are everywhere and the iPhone has had a noticeable impact on this trend. Okay so we get the idea that people think touch screens are cool and people obviously want to use them. So what is the difference between one of those previously mentioned tablet laptops and a touchscreen smart phone? Well Apple already spelled this out when they introduce the iPhone. First and foremost the ditched the pen device in favor of the finger as a pointing device. Works pretty good. But they also completely redesigned the user interface to match the finger pointing. As with most cases concerning Apple, it’s about both the hardware and software working together.
Well so that brings us to the latest and probably the longest running rumor for Apple and that is to make a new market for tablet devices. Well lets think about this for a moment shall we…
Form factor = keyboard… Don’t think you’ll type that much; just walk into any computer store and notice the first thing people do is play with the keys.
Most people – this device should have a 6 – 10 inch screen and be totally flat, no physical keyboard. Basically looks like a big iPod Touch.
Me – Okay so the real deal here is what are the reasons to do this? You could basically take a iPod touch and zoom in and scale it up to make everything bigger. That benefit would make everything bigger and might make typing on it a bit easier. But lets look at typing for a moment. Solution 1 would be to lay it flat on the desk. So everyone try that for a moment. Look down at your keyboard straight on. Unless this devices display had the most amazing viewing angle ever, your neck would get pretty tired of this. You could slant the device up at a more appropriate viewing angel say somewhere between 45 and 75 degrees. Now if you think that is going to work then take that same keyboard of yours and try sticking 6 or so dvd cases under it at an angle and then type. Yeah that didn’t really work for me either. So this brings us to the ever formidable thumb typing that people do on smart phones. Well assuming that one of the advantages of making the bigger screen is to have a bigger keyboard to make typing easier then thumb typing is a bit of a mute point. Now lets talk about one more issue with typing. Remember all those great popular netbooks running around out there right now? I tried one and I think most people will agree the number one complaint about them is that those keyboards are really cute and all but pretty lousy to work with. Not to mention that retraining you hands to type is not the easiest of things to do, nor the quickest. Also lets look at keyboard size while we are at it. You are either going to have a small keyboard in the phone range, a in between size like those of netbooks, or a full size like the one on a desktop computer. If the small keyboard on the netbooks is bothersome to learn and the point of a bigger display is to make a bigger keyboard, then why not make it full size? Well because now we would be having a fairly large screen, at least 10 inches if not bigger.
So all of that just for the keyboard, huh… doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.
Screen Size = Resolution independence
Apple has mentioned this neat little trick to developers but it appears as though overall programmers are just starting to get the idea and aren’t quite there yet.
Specs – Bigger is better and worse
People just pretty much assume ( still? come on people ) that bigger must mean better. So if this supposed mac tablet has a bigger screen then it must be faster, or have more thingamajiggers or better battery right… right? In reality probably not, Even if Apple got of it’s high horse and decided to actually make a device thicker then 2 cm or something else ridiculously thin, then maybe they could put in a bigger battery that lasted longer, but probably not much longer.
Marketing – Who is gonna buy it?
Even though “Everyone” on the Internets says this would be the holy grail and the coolest thing since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; I just don’t see that many people diving head first into it. People say they want portability. This is obvious by the fact that laptop sales have out paced desktops by a ton in the last few years. The question really is wether or not the portable device can do all of the things a laptop can do sufficiently to replace the laptop? There seems to be some debate about this because it rather closely mimics the debate over current netbooks. Consumers seem to be deciding either they hate them because the don’t do everything their respective laptop or desktop can do, or they don’t really need those features or can live without them until they get back to their main machine at home or work. The thing is that the current iPod Touch or iPhone actually do the things a netbook can do, or more in some cases, except for that whole typing thing we discussed earlier.
Okay so now here is what I propose Apple do to address the need for people who want a portable device that they can truly type on.
The answer is don’t. I think the iMac G4 presentation said it best, Make each aspect independent of itself. If you are gonna type then sit at a real keyboard and type, otherwise wait and do it later. Need to type that much while portable, then get a real laptop.
Now What I would really like to see them do is combine the concept of the Mac mini which was bring your own keyboard display and mouse, over to the iPhone and Touch. Imagine is you will a keyboard that has a docking station for an iphone or touch that lays flat. This keyboard can have video out to a display or HD TV and a USB port. You would use the iphone itself as the CPU/User folder/multi touch mouse pad.
Apple has had this approach in the past with the Duo Laptop models. It sort of worked then and most people do have something resembling a type of docking station for laptops. I think this would be different because while the phone or touch is undocked it can run the iPhone version of the OS and truly be a good portable solution. When docked it would run a slimmer version of OSX but still more closely resemble the Finder we all know.
In order for this work though a few things would have to happen…
1. More CPU and RAM in the iPhone itself or augment it with a Basic CPU and RAM in the keyboard dock station.
2. Proper marketing for this would be to bill it as a work companion, other room setup, TV computer, something showing how this can be used in addition to your regular CPU. Or if the add on CPU is powerful enough, then as a replacement for your desktop. In my sales experience i have found the few people truly use the laptop for it’s portability sake other then to move from the desk to the couch or bed. They mainly want it because it is small.
OKay well that about sums it up. I don’t think Apple should make a tablet, but at the most make a slightly larger ipod touch ( 5 inches maybe ) and use it as the basis for a portable CPU and don’t forget to BYOKDM.