One Tablet for All: Apple’s Slate as a Shared Media Device

The Apple tablet, when (and if) released, will be a multimedia device. There’s little to no question about that. It’ll play video and music, allow you to browse photos and web content, and play games. But that simplistic definition of what it does doesn’t actually capture the significance of the tablet, according to a new report at the Wall Street Journal.

In the report, the WSJ talks about how during development, the focus with the tablet was on what its role would be in homes and classrooms, rather than on how it could be used by individuals alone. Apple set out to create a device that would be perfectly suited to a shared use environment, which strikes me as a fairly novel way of designing personal electronics.

Here’s how the device is tailored to household or group use:

One person familiar with the matter said Apple has put significant resources into designing and programming the device so that it is intuitive to share. This person said Apple has experimented with the ability to leave virtual sticky notes on the device and for the gadget to automatically recognize individuals via a built-in camera. It’s unclear whether these features will be included at launch.

Even with only that little information, I begin to see the marketing wisdom in such a design. Let’s face it, the tablet will be entering a market that is already fairly computer-rich, especially among the Apple faithful. If every member of a household has their own computer, how best to sell them another device that really has the same capabilities in a different form factor?

The answer: Sell them one that everybody can use as easily as if it were an extension of their own computer, without the bulk, startup/shutdown hassle and other inconveniences associated with a proper desktop or laptop. The idea probably came naturally enough as an extension of what families were already doing with iPhones and iPod touches in the household belonging to one member. To then take that natural inclination and make it the actual focus of a new hardware platform is a stroke of marketing genius.

If this is true and the development of the tablet really did focus along these lines, then think of what it might be able to do. You could pause a movie you were watching and go out for a run, then your wife could pick it up and instantly be taken to the email she was composing before you started using it, thanks to facial recognition tech. When you got back, if it was available, you could pick it up and the camera would see your face and resume the movie at the point where you left off, seamlessly.

Apple is also looking at pitching the device to the education market, according to the WSJ report. It should be much more appealing to education users than the Kindle DX, which currently represents its main competition, since it will be able to support interactive applications and color display, which Amazon’s 9.7-inch reader cannot, though apps are reportedly in the works. Price will probably be the biggest factor. Both students and schools will be wary of something with a high per-unit price tag, unless Apple can make up the difference by offering significant discounts on the content side.

Marketing the tablet as a household or shared device has the additional benefit of breaking up the cost in the mind of the consumer. A $1,000 price tag won’t look nearly as daunting if you start thinking about it as a shared community resource like a television. As a single guy living on my own, though, that consideration wouldn’t enter into my decision. Would it help you justify the cost?

Related GigaOM Pro Research: Rumored Apple Tablet: Opportunities Too Big to Ignore


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