On the eve of another exciting announcement from everybody’s favorite Cupertino company, I felt it was necessary to chime in on my predictions for what the Apple tablet will look like, how it will work, and what kind of experience we can expect from this supposedly revolutionary device, and why I still seem somewhat skeptical over the idea of an iTablet.
There is no Gap
There’s no end to the amount of coverage and speculation about this product, which can be found here, and here most notably. But my anticipation is mostly in the “surprise” to come since at the moment I’m not excited for this product really. Current offerings out there have some problems with input methods, power, and well… functionality. It seems to me that the gap that the Kindle, eReaders, and these proposed media tablets are trying to fill does not really exist.
I would describe my day as having three “levels of mobility.”
- Home: At my desk with a 23″ display or two, running a Quad core processor. My computer keeps up with my workflow, it never lags behind. Video is large, clear, and stutter-free, and since I’m at my desk, that’s the only thing I would tolerate.
- Portable: I have my MacBook with me, and I’m setup somewhere other than my desk. Perhaps I’m on my bed, downstairs, outside, or in the library. I’m in class or at work somewhere, but I’m still computing. In this case, I tolerate some mild lag in my computing environment, since there isn’t really a laptop that is as powerful as my desktop and still within budget both money-wise and battery-life wise.
- Mobile: I am likely physically moving, whether on the bus, in the car, or simply walking around. I can still receive content and view it, although I don’t expect to perform a lot of input, it still is effective when it needs to happen. Loading times are much slower (or not available at all on my iPod Touch), but I can look out the window of the train or put it in my pocket for a few moments while it does its thing, and I’m not irritated.
At each of these stages, I feel that all my needs are fulfilled despite having limitations at each of these mobility levels. Most of my tasks can be performed at all levels.
So at which point would the tablet enter my workflow? Naturally it would be somewhere in between Portable and Mobile. I’m lying down or on the bus for more than a minute or two, and I’d like to read a book, watch a video, or take a note. Yet, a tablet would not fit in any pocket, and would likely need to be extracted from a bag, and thus somewhat of a hassle for that extra few inches of reading room. Why not hit up the iPhone/iPod Touch? Assuming that this Apple Tablet would be equipped with a nearly identical Operating System to that of my iPhone/iPod, what advantage in terms of functionality would really be present?
Put simply, the Apple Tablet seems to be far too close in functionality to the iPhone/iPod to be advantageous over it, and yet remains less pocketable and more of a pain to whip out, so any advantage is nullified.
An Industry Shift
Despite all this, and the terrible mystery of input method which I won’t address except to predict: there won’t be any, I still think that tomorrow will be revolutionary in a market sense, and here’s why.
If you look at Apple products of years past, you’ll see a common theme to emerge: changing the industry. Steve Jobs and his followers really aren’t interested in doing something unless it’s going to change the way we think about an industry entirely. While the slogan is now gone, “Think Different” remains Apple’s philosophy. They took a boring business machine and turned it into the Mac: the computer we all wanted in our homes. They took the MP3 player and changed the way we think and listen to music. In just 2.5 short years, they turned the cell phone on its head and is only now having to watch out for competition with the arrival of Android. The Amazon Kindle hoped to be the iPod of eReaders, but most of us just groaned the moment we saw the bland grayscale display. Amazon didn’t do anything to change the book industry. They simply put a book into binary.
So as I sound more and more like a ridiculous Apple fanboy, here is my prediction. The Apple Tablet will be about engaging the user in their content. YouTube, Blogs, Twitter are already social, but books on the other hand, are not. Yesterday, I went to the library and took a look at the Edmonton Public Library’s fairly recent database switch to Bibliocommons. I could look up a book in the catalog and see a review from libraries patrons in other cities all over the world, all within a mouse click of requesting the book be brought to me. Take that one step further, and imagine seeing everything your friends are reading on your tablet. One tap: you have the book in your hands. One tap: you’re in the first chapter. But then when you get to Chapter 3, you see comments from other readers about the shallow character development in this chapter, and they provide a synopsis for you to skip to the next chapter. It’s book-reading on Shuffle.
Perhaps this idea is way too far-fetched and old fashioned, since we all know that according to Steve, “people don’t read anymore.” I doubt that the killer app will be social book annotation, and perhaps I’ve just spent too much time in English class, but the fact is that this mind-melding new tablet is going to need some sort of killer app that makes it a truly useful product. It needs to find the period in between Portable and Mobile where I say “Yes, this solves a problem,” but if this whole iPad thing is going to be nothing but a 9″ iPhone sans-phone, I’m not sure I’m interested.