Tag Archives | Tablets

Apple Tablet Date Debate

Apple TabletThe Applesphere seems to have stopped debating whether there’s going to be an Apple tablet or not. There even seems to be some consensus about form factor and price range. What’s left to toss around? Release dates. The question seems to boil down to this: Fall/Holiday 2009 or 2010? (As you may recall, we already have had the Financial Times confident it’s September and AppleInsider confident it’s 2010.)

Today, both Gizmodo’s Brian Lam and Jim Dalrymple of The Loop say they’ve talked to insiders. Brian’s insider sort of generally suggests the tablet will arrive this year. Jim’s insider says early 2010. Me, I…have no insiders! So I have to rely on intuition, guesswork, and crude deductive logic. A few thoughts:

–The tablet’s going to be a significant deal–the biggest new Apple product since the iPhone, whether or not it’s a hit. And there’s a lot of related stuff that needs to be addressed, like its impact on developers, and the first apps for it. That’s not ten minutes at the end of a September iPod event–it’s probably an event of its own.

–Apple’s September events are also traditionally music-themed, so I’m instinctively suspicious of rumors involving them featuring a device that isn’t music-centric, as a tablet wouldn’t be. (Although that wouldn’t preclude another September event for the tablet.)

–It doesn’t seem entirely out of the question that the tablet could be announced this year even if it doesn’t go on sale until next year, especially if it has built-in Verizon broadband that would require FCC paperwork that might leak. And Apple’s been known to announce products early when they don’t compete with existing Apple products (both the iPhone and Apple TV were unveiled months before you could buy one).

–On the other hand, it would be extremely odd to announce the tablet before the holiday season when it wouldn’t be available until after it. People might forgo an iPod Touch under the tree to save their pennies.

Conclusions? It’s hard to figure this out without an insider, and even the insiders are at odds with each other! But I just checked with my gut, and it told me that the tablet will most likely be announced and released next year. Gut, if that turns out to be wrong, I blame you.


More Tablet Naysaying

No TabletsOver at Cnet, Rafe Needleman joins the chorus of entirely rational skepticism that the world is ready for a tablet computer from Apple or anyone else:

But what you can do with a screen-only computer gets really limited when you expand the device beyond pocket size. There are two big limitations. First, you need a keyboard for doing real work. At least most people do. Perhaps a generation of kids will grow up that are as speedy on a virtual keyboard as they are on a real one, but until then anyone who does more than write quick e-mails and Twitter messages on a computer will want to take a keyboard with them. And typing on the screen, even if you can do it, is an ergo disaster. Either you have to keep your hands up in the air (if the computer is mounted vertically in front of you) or you have to hunch over your screen to see it. Maybe it’s the national chiropractors association that’s pushing this form factor.

Well said–except that I think it’s possible that the Apple tablet, if it exists, will skirt the issue by focusing on stuff that requires minimal typing. You don’t need a a keyboard to watch movies, listen to music, or play games; you barely need one to read e-books; you can do a lot of stuff on the Web that involves typing only a few words here and there.

One of the reasons I hope Apple does indeed launch a tablet in September is simply so the world can start critiquing the real thing rather than a theoretical Apple tablet–whether the world turns out to love it or hate it…


Enter the Tablet Naysayers!

MomentaAt the moment, Apple’s tablet is not a real product but a gumbo of rumor, speculation, patent diving, and unabashed daydreaming. But it’s already inspiring a thoughtful backlash. Over at IntoMobile, Stefan Constantinescu lays out in amazing detail the history of rumors about an Apple tablet that turned out to be pure fiction, or which at least haven’t resulted in Apple releasing such a device to date. It’s a sobering and useful piece, especially given that there’s some chance that the Apple device that pretty much everyone is now assuming will appear soon may indeed be nothing more than the result of mass hallucination.

At LIVEdigitally, my friend Jeremy Toeman isn’t saying that the Apple tablet is fantasy–but he does contend that such devices would be rife with limitations and that they would join the giant deadpool comprised of products which the industry got excited about but real people had no interest in. It’s certainly true that there’s a long history of tablets being released and then failing miserably. The image at the left is the Momenta tablet computer, which was a big story and a major flop back when I got into the tech-journalism business in 1991. And if you were going to compile a list of Microsoft’s five biggest misfires, it might well include the whole idea of the Tablet PC, a platform which Microsoft representatives told me at Comdex in 2001 would make up the majority of notebook computers sold within five years. Tablets not only don’t dominate, but are pretty much moribund. (Even in 2001, I thought they’d drunk an entire vat of their own Kool-Aid.)

Every tablet computer we’ve seen to date has suffered from being…a computer. That is, they’ve taken many of their basic design concepts from standard laptops, borrowed much of their user interfaces from traditional operating systems, and generally been intended for applications we know from traditional computing, such as note-taking. Basically, they’ve proven again and again that pen and/or touch input doesn’t provide a very satisfactory substitute for plain old physical QWERTY.

If Apple is releasing a tablet anytime soon, however, I think it’ll be smart enough not to offer us something that has much of anything in common with Microsoft’s Tablet PC design and other existing tablet concepts. The Apple tablet won’t use a pen, won’t repeat the Newton’s handwriting-recognition mistakes, and won’t be pitched as being very useful for taking notes or engaging in other text-intensive tasks. It’ll be an iPhone (or iPod Touch if you prefer) with more real estate–a gizmo optimized for listening to music, watching movies, reading Web pages and other content, playing games, and other activities that involve minimal input.

The iPhone and iPod Touch have shown that the basic idea not only works but is hugely appealing. It’s still not a given that enough people want similar functionality in a larger size enough to add another gadget to their lives–especially a $700 or $800 gadget. But if Apple really is readying a tablet (not a given) and it’s a giant iPhone rather than a “tablet computer” (also not a given, but I have my hunch) it could be something utterly new: a tablet that makes sense.


The Apple Tablet: Some Possibly Answered Questions

Potentially Answered QuestionsAbout the only thing we know for sure about Apple’s allegedly upcoming tablet computer is that there’s definitely misinformation floating around at the moment. Last week, AppleInsider. Last week, AppleInsider was exceptionally confident that Apple will be shipping its long-awaited tablet computer in the first quarter of next year. This week the Financial Times (in a story co-reported by my very old friend Joe Menn) is confirming that the tablet is due in September of this year. Unless we’re talking two different tablets here, somebody is wrong. (Or everybody–no Apple product is a sure thing until somebody brandishes it onstage at an Apple event.)

Still, chances seem very good that Apple is indeed working on a tablet device, and I’m going to assume for the moment that the FT has it right and the tablet will be here in a few weeks. (In part because venerable and traditional media outlets have a better track record of being right when they declare something to be true, and in part because I’m tired of waiting.)

So I’m choosing this moment to publish what I’m calling a PAQ on the tablet. That stands for Possibly Answered Questions–there are no real answers in this story, just me trying to piece together rumors and semi-educated guesses into something that sounds logical. I’ll try to remember to go back and fact-check all this stuff once if Apple releases a tablet, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if I get much or most of this wrong.

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Apple Tablet in 2010? Maybe! And Maybe Not!

When analysts predict Apple’s plans, I’m instantly, incorrigibly skeptical. With that in mind, I’m regarding Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster’s theory that Apple will release a tablet device next year for $500-$700 as just that: a theory. Munster pieced together his prediction based on multiple pieces of interesting evidence, ranging from rumors coming out of Asian component supplies to Apple’s acquisition of chip company PA Semi to the company’s portfolio of multi-touch patents. I don’t think anyone on the planet has a decent record of assembling reliable predictions based on these types of hints.

On the grand scale, I think some of the clues that Munster is looking at mean something: If the next few years pass without Apple releasing devices that bridge the gap between an iPhone and a MacBook, I’d be shocked. I also assume that the iPhone OS, or its descendants, will power larger, more powerful devices than the iPhone or iPod Touch–and that it’s the form of OS X that’ll be around even after Apple no longer makes any devices that look much like today’s Macs. (Note: I don’t mean to suggest that Macs are going away any time soon.)

One other thing about Munster and his Apple predictions: He recently said that he thinks that there will be no new iPhones at Apple’s WWDC keynote on June 6th, but that Steve Jobs will return from his medical leave to headline a new-iPhone press event in late June.   As Daring Fireball’s John Gruber points out, a new iPhone will likely have new hardware features that Apple will have to explain to third-party developers, so you’d think the company would want to unveil said new phone at WWDC.


Two Possible Apple Responses to the Netbook

Mac NetBookIn normal times, it’s standard operating procedure for Apple watchers to listen to Steve Jobs dismiss a product category, then come to the conclusion that his negativity simply means that Apple isn’t ready to enter it yet. At the moment, it’s acting CEO Tim Cook whose comments get parsed. As Jason Snell notes over at Macworld, Cook was pretty darn harsh about the downsides of netbooks during yesterday’s Apple financial conference call:

For us, it’s about doing great products. And when I look at what is being sold in the netbook space today, I see cramped keyboards, terrible software, junky hardware, very small screens, and just not a consumer experience… that we would put the Mac brand on, quite frankly. And so it’s not a space, as it exists today, that we’re interested in, nor do we believe that customers in the long term would be interested in.

But Cook didn’t say that Apple wouldn’t make a netbook, or something sort of like a netbook. Actually, he said that it might well do so:

That said, we do look at the space and are interested to see how customers respond to it. People that want a small computer (so to speak) that does browsing and e-mail might want to buy an iPod touch or an iPhone. So we have other products to accomplish some of what people buy netbooks for. So in that way we play in an indirect basis.

And if we can find a way to deliver an innovative product that really makes a contribution, then we’ll do that. We have some interesting ideas in this space. The product pipeline is fantastic for the Mac. If you look at the past, in 17 of the last 18 quarters we’ve exceeded the market rate of growth, and to exceed it in this horrendous economy is quite an accomplishment, especially if you look at these very low-cost netbooks that I think is a stretch to call it a personal computer, that are really propping up unit numbers as a whole.

Deconstructing all this, Cook seems to be saying that Apple won’t make a product with:

1) a cramped keyboard

2) terrible software

3) junky hardware

4) a very small screen

That would seem to rule out anything that’s an exact counterpart to today’s netbooks. But it does leave room for two other products that Apple could make:

1) The widely-rumored tablet--which, I’m thinking, would more logically run the iPhone OS than the Mac OS. No keyboard, and an interface tailored to work well on a small screen. (I like my Asus Eee PC 1000HE, but there’s no question that Windows XP is a poor match for its screen resolution–I’m reminded of that every time I press the Start button and get a warning that it can’t display all the times.)

2) A computer which I still think there’s a good chance Apple will introduce–a replacement for today’s $999 white MacBook that’s a pretty traditional Mac notebook that costs more than a netbook ($800, maybe?) but is also posher than one, with a 13-inch screen and a full-sized keyboard.

Of course, there’s no reason why Apple couldn’t release both of these products, since they’d be complementary more than competitive.

I have no inside info; I try to steer clear of assuming that Apple will make products because they seem logical to me; I know that the fact that the company’s public statements suggest that it might go in a particular direction doesn’t mean it will. But if Apple were to make either or both of these products, I think it would at least be consistent with both Cook’s comments yesterday and the company’s overall philosophies.


Would You Buy a CrunchPad?

Lisa and Jackson buy a CrunchPadThe history of technology journalists getting into the computer business isn’t full of success stories (remember Adam Osborne?). But TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington and a bunch of co-conspirators have been noodling on the idea of a CrunchPad, a really cheap, simple tablet computer for surfing the Web. Yesterday, a bunch of photos “leaked” out, including some of CrunchPad that looked suspiciously close to final–in fancy boxes, yet. Then Arrington chimed in and gave an update on the project, but said he’s not ready to talk about details on availability. We still don’t know whether the CrunchPad would be a TechCrunch-branded product, or a design that other companies could license, or, for that matter, whether there are any plans to bring it to market at all.

I’m not saying I’m itching to buy a CrunchPad, but I’ve long been interested in the idea of a hunk of hardware that was designed for Web browsing and not much of anything else. I still think I want one with a real keyboard–I’ve yet to meet an on-screen substitute that I can love unreservedly–but I’m open to being convinced that I don’t need one. (I’m also intrigued by the idea of an Apple tablet, but for some mysterious reason, nobody at Apple is talking about whether it’s really working on one.)

So does the CrunchPad, or something like it, interest you?