Deciphering the Tablet mystery

Mon, Jan 4, 2010


For the past few months, the speculation surrounding Apple’s long rumored tablet has been steadily increasing. The funny thing, though, is that we still no little to nothing about it. We have some idea about the screen size (10.1-inches perhaps) and some of the features it may come with (built-in 3G connectivity maybe) but all in all, we’re still in the dark waiting for any crumb of illuminating news.

Not too long ago, we wrote that maybe the media has been overhyping the tablet into something it wasn’t, and unnecessarily raising expectations in the process. After all, the tablet is rumored to be priced in between an iPhone and a Macbook (say the 6-$700 range) and there just has to be more to it than being an oversized iPod Touch if it has any hopes of selling. While a large screen and 3G connectivity are nice, that’s certainly not enough for the tablet to warrant its own product category.

Last week, John Gruber of Daring Fireball laid out many of the questions clouding the very concept of what the tablet is supposed to be and the issues Apple undoubtedly had to traverse during its development.

I have a thousand questions about The Tablet’s design. What size is it? There’s a big difference between, say, 7- and 10-inch displays. How do you type on it? With all your fingers, like a laptop keyboard? Or like an iPhone, with only your thumbs? If you’re supposed to watch video on it, how do you prop it up? Holding it in your hands? Flat on a table seems like the wrong angle entirely; but a fold-out “arm” to prop it up, à la a picture frame, seems clumsy and inelegant. If it’s just a touchscreen tablet, how do you protect the screen while carrying it around? If it folds up somehow, how is it not just a laptop — why not put a hardware keyboard on the part that folds up to cover the display? … If it’s too big to fit in a pants pocket, how are you supposed to carry it around? And but if it does fit in a pants pocket, how is it bigger enough than an iPod Touch to justify existing? And so on.

A thousand questions indeed, and yet all valid. What makes the rumored Apple tablet so intriguing, and ultimately confusing, is that it represents a market space that isn’t fully mature. Looking back, Apple’s big hits in the iPod and the iPhone were able to succeed by by entering already existent markets with vastly superior implementations. The market for tablet computers, in contrast, has never been that significant and has failed to strike a chord with consumers. What, then, will make Apple’s foray into the tablet world that much different?

Gruber writes that calling Apple’s upcoming product a tablet wrongly pigeon holes it into something it’s not. Delving deeper, Gruber postulates that whatever Apple has up its sleeve will be so big and potentially revolutionary that we we’re not even capable of comprehending what it might be. This may sound absurd on its face, but you can make a strong case that the iPhone was a similar product with a similar aura when it was first announced by Steve Jobs at Macworld 2007.

And so in answer to my central question, regarding why buy The Tablet if you already have an iPhone and a MacBook, my best guess is that ultimately, The Tablet is something you’ll buy instead of a MacBook.

I say they’re swinging big — redefining the experience of personal computing.

It will not be pitched as such by Apple. It will be defined by three or four of its built-in primary apps. But long-term, big-picture? It will be to the MacBook what the Macintosh was to the Apple II… The Tablet, I say, is going to be Apple’s new answer to what you use for personal portable general computing.

That’s not just swinging big, that’s akin to going for the all-time homerun record sans steroids.

Gruber concedes that he has no inside info on whatever it is Apple has cooking in the kitchen, but he provides a fresh take on what Apple may have in store for us come January 26th when it’s expected to hold a media event and potentially introduce the iSlate, or whatever it’s called, to the world.

Lastly, remember that Apple isn’t stupid, and they’re the last company that would ever enter a market on a whim to capitalize on the latest fad in technology. With Steve Jobs reportedly laser focused on putting the finishing touches on the tablet, you can bet that the tablet (or whatever you wanna call it) will be more than a placeholder stuck between an iPhone and a MacBook. When/if this baby hits the market, it may be a category all unto itself. Let there be no doubt – Apple will own the news come January 26th.


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