The New York Times reports today that Apple’s been working on a tablet computing device, in some form or another, since 2003:
One prototype, developed in 2003, used PowerPC microchips made by I.B.M., which were so power-hungry that they quickly drained the battery.
“It couldn’t be built. The battery life wasn’t long enough, the graphics performance was not enough to do anything and the components themselves cost more than $500,” said Joshua A. Strickland, a former Apple engineer whose name is on several of the company’s patents for multitouch technology.
Another former Apple executive who was there at the time said the tablets kept getting shelved at Apple because Mr. Jobs, whose incisive critiques are often memorable, asked, in essence, what they were good for besides surfing the Web in the bathroom.
Despite the preponderance of apps, there is still the persistent question of whether regular people will really find a use for tablet computers. Smaller cellphones are increasingly multipurpose and fit nicely in a jacket pocket. And low-end laptops are inexpensive, run a full-fledged operating system and offer the luxury of a keyboard.
“I can imagine something like the iPhone with a much bigger screen being a gorgeous device with great capacity, but I don’t know where I would fit that into my life,” said a former Apple executive, who declined to be named because of Apple’s secrecy policies, but who anticipates an Apple tablet next year. “Those are the debates that have been happening inside Apple for quite some time.”
We’d tend to agree. A device that’s about 4 times as big as an iPod Touch with always-on Internet sounds great, but we’re still not sold there’s a huge market for an Apple tablet given the rumored price points. Apple isn’t one to release a product just for the hell of it (which is why you’ll never see an Apple netbook), so you have to assume that Apple’s rumored tablet, if it ever sees the light of day, will have some crazy new feature or use that people had never even thought possible.