Worrying out loud about the Apple Tablet


The 2006 Apple MacBook Pro

There has been more talk about the rumoured Apple iTablet / iSlate / iPad / iThingy than the second coming of a non existant deity or a certain iTelephone device. There’s probably little more I could add that hasn’t already been said, but I’m going to have fun doing it anyway. As a matter of disclosure, some of my computers are Macs and I have an iPhone.

Why did I put a picture of an old MacBook Pro and not the current one? Because it’s the venerable Apple companion I have, albeit with Snow Leopard now! Isn’t that sweet? No, it’s because there aren’t any photos of a darn Apple tablet yet! The Bird is The Word! But I digress (no, really?).

Fanboyism might be showing

As Apple has repeatedly (repeatedly? repeatedly) demonstrated with their Mac, iPod and iPhone ecosystems, they have the uncanny ability to take products that already exist in some rudimentary form (GUIs, portable media players, smart phones) and completely rethink their designs, functions and interfaces from the ground up with no preconceptions as to how such products are "supposed" to look and work. Very few other companies take such revolutionary as opposed to evolutionary approach.

The result of such efforts are software and hardware products that other consumer electronic companies are desperate to duplicate. It took Microsoft 10 years to broadly duplicate the Mac OS interface, it took Google’s Android two to three years to broadly emulate the iPhone (depending on which hardware supplier you support), and Microsoft has only just announced WiMo7 which will be released later this year to offer the same functions as a product released years ago. These are but three examples from two companies, the industry is littered with plenty more we could both name.

The problem with this approach is you can never be ahead if your product is designed to be the "killer" for something. Anyone can imitate another product, but during the time competitors are struggling to do so, Apple can rake in the money with something nobody else has, and by the time competitors have created their "iDevice killer" Apple has moved on to something else.

Market looks like a French word,
pronounced Markey, like Ballet. Never mind.

The CrunchPad from TechCrunch

I belabour all that fanboyism to voice my worries about this Apple tablet whatsit. The point I was trying to make was that Apple has the uncanny ability to see new future markets where traditionally other players have had difficulty; for example before the iPhone smartphones were largely limited to business users.

With all that said though, I do have to admit I just don’t see enough of a market for tablets. Whereas Macs, iPods and iPhones have broad appeal, a tablet computer running either a scaled down desktop OS X or a scaled up mobile OS X seems like too much of a niche.

I’ll be interested to see if Apple positions their rumoured tablet as a replacement for notebook computers entirely, or perhaps during the presentation Steve will make a mockery of netbooks and how their keyboards and screens are terrible. In the former case though, I don’t see too many people ditching laptops with proper keyboards for a tablet, and in the latter people who buy netbooks won’t want to pony up three times the price for an Apple equivilant.

The Fujitsu Lifebook

I’ve written in great lengths here about my dad’s adventures with his awful Fujitsu Windows XP tablet PC (pictured above) that’s really only a "tablet" in name only, the failure of the CrunchPad (pictured further above), and how I was disappointed because I’d love to have a tablet form factor machine to complement my heavy MacBook Pro and my ThinkPad X40 that I use as a "good" netbook. I’m under no illusions though that my dad and I aren’t fringe cases, at least in the current market.

Did I mention I hope I’m wrong?

I really, really, really hope I’m wrong, and I’ve gone to great lengths to discuss how Apple seems to be able to predict (and in many cases create) demand for new products that didn’t exist before, but aside from the tech elite and nerds I can’t see something like an Apple tablet taking off in the general market place.

Of all Apple’s stellar success stories, this project could end up being the next AppleTV or PowerMac G4 Cube: elegant products that are well executed but that failed to capture the public’s interest. Unlike those other two products though, the Apple tablet has generated so much foaming at the mouth and rabid excitement that if it fails in the market I fear it would be a PR catastrophe. Much like "Sidekicked" now refers to data cloud #fail, could iSlate or iTablet become a milestone for when Apple really dropped the ball for the first time since Jobs came back?

I hope it’s a success so that years from now I can look back at this post and poke fun at my short-sightedness. Do you use a hyphen for that word? If it does fail though, at least I can take some small comfort from the fact I’d worried about it out loud on my blog already. Wait, that’s a terrible thing to say, never mind.

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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