Take one tablet and call me

Posted: January 8, 2010 in Cellphones, iphone, mixed reality, Mobile media, new media, What is being rolled out
Tags: , , , , , ,

By Alistair Fairweather

Of all tech companies Apple Inc is the champion of playing hard-to-get. For 18 months it has had geeks and journalists salivating over rumours of another revolutionary product.

Finally, on January 5 the Wall Street Journal broke the (sort of) official news – Apple will be revealing a “multimedia tablet device” in January, and may begin shipping as early March.

Before you get too excited, that’s tablet as in Ten Commandments, not as in Panado. Essentially it’s a touch screen device around 11 inches (28cm) across which is rumoured to be named the iSlate. Imagine an iPhone or iPod touch, but with four times the screen area and you’re pretty close to Apple’s new device.

So why would Apple want to launch a giant iPod? Their seminal application strategy has made its small-form devices (iPhone and iPod touch) incredibly versatile and useful. But no one would willingly edit an entire document on an iPhone, or watch a whole movie on an iPod touch.

That’s where the iSlate comes in – it’s an entire laptop squashed into something the size and weight of a laptop screen. And because of the touch screen there is no need for peripherals like a mouse or keyboard – you do everything with the device itself.

But to think of it in those terms is to miss the potential game-changing genius that made the iPhone such a huge hit. The revolutionary thing about the iPhone interface is that it’s “gestural” – it understands what you want to do by the gestures you use. Swipe both fingers across the screen and it slides to the next image in a slideshow.

Tap your finger on an area and it “activates” (like a link being clicked). Stretch your fingers across the screen to zoom in and pinch them back to zoom out. When people first experienced this it was like something out of a sci-fi movie – Minority Report had come to life. Now imagine what Apple’s engineers will do with four times more screen area to play with. One thing is certain – the iSlate won’t simply be the iPhone interface blown up to scale.

Market-defining interfaces have long been Apple’s trademark, and the iSlate should be no exception. No one is watching the launch of the iSlate more keenly than magazine and newspaper publishers. Tablet devices may prove their saviour, allowing them to reach their readers cheaper and quicker while still providing all the visual appeal of their paper editions.

Reading on a laptop is clumsy, but flipping virtual pages on the iSlate will be as close to a “real” magazine as you can currently get. Of course this model is predicated on the iSlate having built-in internet capabilities (in order to seamlessly deliver new editions) but that looks to be a near certainty.

There’s a lot of debate around the pricing of the device. Apple’s cheapest laptop retails at $1 000 and the iSlate will probably cost the same amount, at least at first. Which begs the question – who would buy a tablet when you can get a laptop for the same amount?

Then again we said the same thing about the iPhone when it launched with a $600 price tag – and Apple have sold over 40 million of them. Will the iSlate live up to the hype? Or will it, like the MacBook Air, be one of Apple’s rare missteps?

On January 6 Hewlett Packard and Microsoft announced their collaboration on their own tablet, which should be on sale around the middle of 2010. The touch screen revolution clearly in full swing, so if Apple don’t succeed someone else will.

– News24

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