This is the fourth in a series of 7 posts in the 7 days prior to Apple’s January 27 media event in which I explore various possibilities for an Apple Tablet and other potential announcements.
If the Wall Street Journal is correct, Apple’s event on January 27 will be about its “mobile products,” and not just the tablet. The current lineup includes iPods, iPhones, and MacBooks, and just about everyone expects the iSlate, iPad or Canvas to be the new addition. Its Airport line of Wi-fi routers enables wireless access to the net, and Apple has mobile software products offered under the MobileMe brand, and iWork.com. It’s building a large data center in North Carolina, presumably to handle more intensive cloud computing needs, and Apple is expected to move into cloud-based media storage in part based on its recent purchase of LaLa.
In total, Apple has an impressive array of mobile products, so there is potentially much to discuss. And while the focus of attention leading up to the event is on the potential tablet, I expect a broader discussion of Apple’s mobile products in general, and how they work together in particular.
The hardware of the tablet is likely to be much like an enlarged iPhone or iPod touch. The software will be specifically designed, however, for the larger screen, form factor, and intended purpose of consuming media. Like the iPhone and Apple TV, the tablet will likely be positioned as a satellite to a Mac that operates as a hub. It will have enough room to store movies, music, photos, and multimedia so it will be useful even when not connected to a network, but will also seamlessly connect to local networks and the Internet for streaming media from other devices or the cloud.
iTunes Sharing and Home Sharing…Not So Much
The current state of sharing content among Apple devices on a home network is a bit jumbled. With iTunes, you can share your library, allowing other devices to stream your content. But Apple recently enabled a new feature called Home Sharing, which allows multiple Macs to share content by making duplicate copies of media and apps. With iTunes sharing, devices must be on the same local network at the same time. With Home Sharing, each device has its own copy of the file, so they can be anywhere. But Home Sharing requires different devices to log into the iTunes Store with the same account, and family accounts are not supported (or at least it didn’t work for us). In our experience, Home Sharing, still in its infancy, is unreliable. Neither iTunes nor iPhoto are very good at enabling multiple users to access the same libraries.
This is where I expect to see a great deal of emphasis for Apple’s mobile products, including the tablet. Apple needs to rethink how users share devices and content in a household with a fresh approach that has the elegance and simplicity of many of their products. Sharing should simply be sharing, with various levels of sharing available based on permissions and proximity, as opposed to two different features with different names, different requirements and different levels of reliability. Apple already has the technology to enable seamless sharing of content among devices and users via these existing sharing features, Remote Access, and Screen Sharing, among other features.
Seamless, Intelligent Sharing, Rethought From the Ground Up
I see Apple taking several major steps away from its personal computer foundation and toward consumer electronics, following a trend that first appeared with the introduction of the iPod in 2001. It will be possible to buy a new Apple TV as a true media center, and iPhones, iPods, and tablets in particular as the Apple TV’s display. Content will “live” on the Apple TV, but can be consumed by any device on the network. Media will be able to be copied to the devices for use when not connected to the local network. All members of an Apple Family account will have permissions to access all media associated with the account. Users will have the option to store duplicate copies of their media on the cloud and access them from anywhere in the world.
Virtually all of this is possible today, but the experience is convoluted. The introduction of the tablet is the seminal event that gives Apple the opportunity to completely rethink how media and apps are used and shared among users and devices.