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

The Apple (s aapl) 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 (s amzn) 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

5 Responses to “One Tablet for All: Apple’s Slate as a Shared Media Device”

  1. I have say that I would prob want it to myself… but being able to punt it as a shared device would definitely help me justify it as a more “selfless” buy.

    “This is for both of us, dear – I’m just going to be the one who uses it” ;)

  2. I don’t get the idea of a shared tablet. I have enough trouble letting someone else use the remote control, let alone my main media device. Said another way, if the tablet is so uncompelling that I’m cool with sharing it, then Apple will sell about 10 of them. There is NO WAY that Apple is thinking about this as a shared device.

  3. Over the years, whenever tablet computers were discussed, everyone has tried to figure out how it would fit in with the smartphones, laptops and desktop computers they already own. Personally, I found it hard to justify.

    But what if Apple has been looking at the tablet from a different direction? Instead of trying to figure out how to use it from an INDIVIDUAL perspective, try look at it from a FAMILY or HOUSEHOLD perspective.

    When the tablet is at home, it can use WIFI to talk to the home network (and everything connected to it). Picture it sitting in the family room. A universal remote – control an AppleTV, Airport Express, TV, etc. A different app could be a home automation controller – change the thermostat remotely if you’re too hot or too cold. Turn lights off or on. Watching TV and hand it from person to person to quickly check personal email or surf the Internet. With the right VoIP software, the tablet could replace the house phone. Tie it into a home surveillance system to pull up live feeds from video cameras installed around the house. In the morning, bring it into the kitchen and check weather/traffic/breaking news for the daily commute while sipping that cup of coffee. e-books, e-magazines, e-newspapers, you get the idea.

    When the family travels, bring the tablet along and use a 3G service when WIFI is not available. Check traffic, and use the GPS to get directions. Hand it to the kids to play games. Stream music from the “iTunes Cloud”. Surf the internet to check on local points of interest.

    Even if every family only buys one tablet per household, think of the potential market! Plus, this would present a HUGE growth market for all the 3rd party hardware makers of X-10, Insteon, Z-Wave, etc Imagine how easy it would all be if they added Bonjour support to their systems.

  4. robinson

    Great commentary!

    It does represent a paradigm shift and there are many implications. On the humorous downside will be the sibling battles over the tablet! Or the parental ones!

    CRASH! Have to buy another one! :-)

    I wonder how a shared device would work in a classroom. It would be a democratizing influence as opposed to a Smartboard in the front of the room dominated by the teacher. Of course, many teachers have kids use them– still that’s a unidirectional, big screen to the masses type device.

    At home, I’d expect spouses to have different mags and newspaper subscriptions and trade off reading it, much as they do today with the newspaper– except that can be split into parts!