Blog Post

What I Think I Know About the Apple Tablet

I’m a writer for a blog that focuses on Apple (s aapl) and its products, including Macs, iPods and iPhones. So I have a duty and an obligation to write one or more posts about the highly anticipated, much discussed, and completely unknown Apple Tablet device expected to be announced on January 27. But based on the last few years, I have a bit of a unique perspective on the tablet, why Apple might create one, and why you might want to buy one if it does.

Almost four years ago — about 9-10 months before the iPhone was first announced in January 2007 — I decided to give up a rather successful user experience consulting practice to follow a dream. I created a company to build and monetize a product of my own making, rather than continue to provide services to others. After some extensive research, a small team I had assembled helped me develop the product concept and strategy. Essentially, we were going to create what we called the “iTunes of apps,” an online ecosystem of applications that you could easily discover and download to all your digital devices. We determined we needed to build a tablet computer as proof of concept and get hardware manufacturers and content companies on board.

We envisioned a product that looked something like the Notion Ink reported recently, and focused on creating “the first room-to-room mobile Internet device” on the market. Our plan was to focus on lifestyle applications that made daily life easier, including video recipes, home/baby/security monitoring, instructional videos for DIY home improvement projects, and a wide array of similar content. The miBook has since been launched with similar ambitions, but focuses exclusively on “how to” type of content, rather than a full ecosystem of diverse apps serving many purposes. Litl is giving something similar a whirl, but it has a keyboard and limited capability touchscreen so it can’t really be called a tablet. HP’s DreamScreen is a digital picture frame that, while hardwired, is also attempting to address similar needs. Alas, we weren’t able to raise the significant capital required to launch such an animal, in part because no one on our team had a hardware background. We’ve since moved on to creating our own software and advising others in the user experience and mobile space.

For us, the effort was all about the user experience. At the time — and even since with the iPhone, full-screen Blackberries, and Android phones — there was a gap in the user experience between the Nokia N series and similar mobile devices, and full-fledged computers. Something incredibly fun and easy to use, with a screen big enough to be viewed across the room (for watching video recipes, sharing photos with the family, or just watching video content of any type). Of course, the iPhone and iPod touch have addressed much of this need, except the bigger screen. Viewing distance and sharing aren’t the only limitations of the mobile screen for content perhaps best consumed in a tablet style device. iPhone video, for example, takes over the screen, eliminating ability to view related text content or even publish opinions about the content you’re viewing to your social networks. There’s not really a good digital equivalent of reading magazines with imaginative typography, color spreads, and other graphic elements. And I have yet to see a compelling digital textbook that not only includes the original text, but also companion videos and graphics, news feeds on related topics, and updates from and conversation with the author.

That’s the sum total of what I know about the Apple Tablet. That there is a market for one, that many companies are trying hard to tap the market, and that there is a lot of content which would best be showcased on such a device. But what I don’t know is likely far more interesting. So without any inside knowledge, here is my not-so-idle speculation about what it might or could include:

  • Keyboard Dock: Perhaps the best use of a tablet would be a replacement for the consumer-oriented, entry-level white MacBook. But to successfully replace a laptop, the Apple tablet might just need a physical keyboard. What better way to integrate one than to simply make it a recharging dock?
  • Third OS: My sense is there will be a new operating system for the tablet that bridges the gap between the small size, single-function nature of the iPhone OS and the larger platform, keyboard-driven, multitasking capabilities of Snow Leopard. It might be nice if the OS automatically sensed that the tablet was in the dock, and morphed slightly for keyboard optimized input.
  • Publication Wrapper: A new multimedia format will join iTunes LP, allowing publishers of primarily text-based content to release multimedia versions of their book, magazine, or newspaper content that dramatically changes how we consume a lot of content in the home.
  • Apple TV & iTunes Integration: The new tablet will basically become the wireless display to the Apple TV, and Apple will offer a ground-up rethinking about how content is shared among devices on a local network.
  • Front-mounted Web Cam: Crowding around a MacBook to have a video chat with the grandparents isn’t a terrible experience, but it isn’t ideal. A touch-based iChat application would be far more compelling and fun.
  • Home Controls: Expect Apple to position the tablet, an updated Apple TV, new and easier sharing of content among devices, apps like Remote, and integration with other systems as a way to make home controls a mass market.

Personally, I enjoy all the rumors and speculation that some have grown weary of. I’m hoping that none of us are completely right, and that Apple will surprise us all with something that we never realized we couldn’t do without.

17 Responses to “What I Think I Know About the Apple Tablet”

  1. I’m excited to see publications as well. I recently did a story “Apple Tablet & The Future Of Publications” on my blog. It’s probably one of the features I am most excited to get my hands on.

  2. The hardware components, and screen size is fundamental. The rest is just software. That is, I hope it has: wifi, bluetooth, web cam, infa-red, good battery life, multi-touch with stylus and hand-writing recognition, loud enough speakers, USB, HDMI, mic/ear phone, decent in-built memory, SD card reader, design allowing docking with keyboard, design allowing gamepads to attached (?).

  3. The *Publication Wrapper* is probably most interesting to me for such a device.

    I want to pick-up this device with my morning coffee and select from a list of publications I may have subscription to (free and paid), and start reading/learning. Much like the way we navigate the web today with links, I would love the same type of experience for magazines/newspapers/books on this device. With physical magazines, newspapers and books, once you’re finish reading a article for instance that’s it, there’s no more involvement or interaction, it ends abruptly. Why turn my brain off? I want to have the ability to continue reading/learning if I so choose. With a click of a link, I can learn all about the author, or maybe copy a favorite quote and swoosh away to a friend to read. Watch a related video in color, link to a related article, have social book club meet-ups and reading sessions. The possibilities are all of a sudden endless. I could see these becoming standard in classrooms one day. Of course you can do all of this today, but once again it is putting it all together in a simple elegant and cool package that will get he consumers and market’s attention.

  4. I think you’re thinking too small here. Sure, the tablet will play media and interact with your media devices, but there is a lot more that is possible. What if the tablet was a proxy UI to your desktop computer? What about a “passive” mode where the tablet, whenever it was docked, became a display for content meant to be read at a distance: clock, stock ticker, twitter feed, etc?

    If you look at Apple’s new products over the last 10 years, each one of them opened up a new niche market. The tablet will have to do the same or Apple wouldn’t have bothered with it. Just marketing a netbook with a touch screen instead of a keyboard won’t cut it.

  5. Honestly, i’m hyped to see what the tablet will offer, but i’m crossing my fingers that they’ll release a better / new version of itunes, one that addresses the bloat its become.

    i’m a massive itunes fan, but its starting to wear thin now just how long it takes to boot up and how slow it runs (where older versions haven’t before)

  6. I’m afraid I agree with GS. This is simply someone trying to find a new way to spin old rubbish and coming up with nothing helpful or insightful in the process. I can’t remember when I last read anything useful on this blog which I hadn’t already seen somewhere else days previously.

    The standard of writing on this site has really plummeted over the last twelve months or so. Unsubscribing.

  7. I’m sorry but this is the kind of articles that make me laugh. I mean.. Hello Captain Obvoius!?!?! Is the tech world that slow you feel the need to “one up” the other blogs by basically stating you thought of the App store and the Apple tablet 4 years ago? roflmao. Unreal, let’s look really smart and just bullet point what the rumors down the line and steal anything we figure will be in it so in a week we can say “LOOK HOW SMART WE ARE”.

    Sorry this is the most pathatic attempt yet for a blog to get traffic to it’s site.

    I feel somehow cheated out of the past 10 mins… why do I bother reading this trash!

  8. John Loach

    I use a Lenovo X200 Tablet, and a Dell PC connected to the home theatre system. Windows 7, running on both, syncs them perfectly, and streams audio and video to the home theatre beautifuly. A rooftop antenna feeds gorgeous HDTV to the Dell, all for free. MediaCenter in Windows 7 records all of the shows, using a two week ahead guide automatically downloaded from Microsoft. It’s fun to sit in front of the TV screen and run everything with the tablet. Microsoft’s character recognition with a stylus on the tablet is almost perfect. Will the Apple Tablet be as good as that?

    • jtsnyc47

      OMG! You’re the dude from the Windows 7 commercial!!

      There’s a reason Apple’s stock has been curb-stomping Microsoft’s – and it’s got nothing to do with a distortion field. Put another way: yes: it’s safe to say Apple’s entry will be “as good as that”.

  9. You forgot one thing that, I hope, Apple thinks is essential.
    Apple is The system for supporting graphic design (which includes so much stuff we use and read and see everyday, I won’t list them all here), typesetting, type design, title design, audio, music, and movie editing. The first big bite that Apple can take will be its most obvious. Publication design on its own and integrated with video and sound.
    The tablet, if designed right, will function in much the same way a BOOK functions. No, not the cheap paperback model of the Kindle and others but a full color, “spread” style, horizontal publication with great design, great readable typography, and great photography (also add in great video and animation now!).
    This has to be a major differentiator from the low end that has been out for now. Apple always takes it to a simple and elegant level.
    The dynamic full color publication has to be a goal.

  10. “Litl is giving something similar a whirl, but it has a keyboard and limited capability touchscreen so it can’t really be called a tablet”

    A correction: the litl webbook has a very bright, high quality LCD with a 178-degree viewing cone and it’s great but it’s not a touchscreen. We needed a great LCD for our easel mode, where the screen bends back and the device stands up in an inverted-V position. We needed content to be visible all over the room.

    Our usage model is also different to that of a tablet. Take a look at The usage models we are combining are those of a conventional laptop (‘laid forward’) and that of a tv (‘laid back’). We’re packaging content in our litl channels (Flash-based apps) to become part of our radically-different web-based UI so that content will work both in laptop and easel modes. We have an HDMI output and a remote control so we can go wide on your bigscreen tv (which isn’t a touchscreen).

    Hope this helps.