Update: Here’s our post-iPad green analysis we posted shortly after the announcement on Wednesday. Overall grade B.
After Microsoft’s Courier was a no-show at CES and the CrunchPad fizzled (JooJoo notwithstanding), the web tablet market is Apple’s to lose. Next week, the company may reveal its rumored tablet. And while it’s likely to be sleek and modern, perform well and carry forward the feature-rich and user-friendly interfaces for which the company is known, green gadget buyers will be weighing the device based on other merits.
Will Apple’s tablet continue the eco-friendly strides of its MacBook and iPhone forebearers? Will other tablet makers follow suit? Here’s our analysis:
Judging by Apple’s current offerings and the fact that the company generally lets a couple of years pass before retiring a “look,” its choices boil down to glass and aluminum or glass and plastic. There’s a strong chance Apple with go with the former since the company has gathered considerable experience in making its aluminum uni-body MacBook Pros slim and rigid — attributes that are even more critical in a tablet form factor to prevent flexing. A glass and aluminum construction also wins points for recyclability.
OLED, LCD or both? This is one of the more hotly debated aspects of the device. Ironically, it was rival Microsoft that blazed a trail in personal media device screens when it included an OLED screen on its Zune handheld. Even Google (via HTC) employs an OLED screen for its Nexus One smartphone. So it makes sense that Apple would want the vibrant, power-stingy and impossibly thin display tech for its tablet, right?
Well, wrong. Reportedly, Apple — and everyone else — is having trouble finding a supplier for 10-inch OLED screens. But there’s no need for green geeks to despair. If Apple goes with an LTPS LCD display (as expected) and combines it with a mercury-free LED backlighting system, the result is still an eye-pleasing surface for pixels that won’t strain the battery or poison the environment.
Face it, the days of buying a battery for your Apple portable are over, unless you plan to void the warranty, crack open the case and install it yourself. The tablet is likely to follow in that tradition. It’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, Apple claims that its long-lasting, non-user-replaceable lithium-ion batteries end up getting responsibly recycled because owners have to go to Apple to get them swapped out. On the other, it seriously impacts a device’s useful life.
As an owner of a couple of iPods that no longer hold a charge, it’s more cost-effective (and fun) to take the money I would otherwise spend on replacing the battery and put it toward a brand new device that can store more music and last several hours on a charge. It’s a problem that current MacBook Pro owners will discover in another couple of years — and it’s a missed opportunity for Apple to do its part to help stem the flow of e-waste.
Certainly, there are other parts — such as the processor, graphics chip and on-board storage — that have a big impact on energy consumption and battery life, but it’s a foregone conclusion that Apple will use energy-efficient ARM processors and flash storage. After all, why would Apple reverse its impressive EPEAT Gold streak now? As it stands, the casing, the screen, and the battery are the more outwardly visible signs of Apple’s commitment to the environment. The battery, because it is unlikely to be visible or easily accessible at all, may represent the biggest misstep. On the balance, however, you can expect Apple’s tablet to be a solid effort.
Overall Grade: B
If the tablet launches as planned, how will rivals respond? Steve Ballmer’s demonstration of a Windows 7-powered tablet at CES proved that tablets are a market that Microsoft doesn’t want to see Apple dominate. And while his keynote was underwhelming, hardware partner HP showed that it has a handle on the tablet form factor with its slick — although not quite Apple-sleek — device.
If the pent-up anticipation for Apple’s tablet translates into success, you can expect other computer makers to follow suit with similar designs that mimic the energy-efficient and eco-friendly hallmarks of Apple’s tablet, particularly the glass-fronted, LED-backlit screen and perhaps the metal casing.
For now, stay tuned. All will be revealed soon enough.