Apple's October Tablet Changes *Everything*

Tuesday Jul 14th 2009 by Mike Elgan
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The handheld will probably work just like the iPhone, run iPhone apps, have an on-screen keyboard and connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi.

A rumor is circulating that Apple will ship in October an $800 tablet computer with a 9.7-inch touch screen.

Is the rumor true and, if so, will the tablet succeed in a market where no other tablet has? My answers to these questions are probably and definitely. Here's why:

Why the Tablet Rumors Are Probably True

Predicting Apple products is a hazardous business because there are always wildly divergent rumors circulating. Some of them have to be false, and sometimes all of them are.

Not all rumors are created equal, and this one is the best kind. Although Apple's internal discipline with keeping secrets is the stuff of legend, the company has to contract out manufacturing, usually to a company in China or Taiwan. Because so much of the world's electronics manufacturing is done in Taiwan, newspapers there specialize in cultivating unnamed sources inside outsource manufacturing firms to find out about orders from large companies around the world, including Apple. This particular rumor comes from one major Taiwanese newspaper called the China Times and translated into English by a Mac Forums member. This is a credible rumor because the newspaper is legitimate, and the reporter claims to have multiple sources from multiple companies that all point to such a tablet.

The timing also makes sense. An October surprise would enable Apple to take advantage of the holiday season.

Why the Apple Tablet Will Succeed

Regardless of whether Apple ships a tablet in October or not, it's almost certain that the company will sell such a device in the near future. They'd be crazy not to.

Apple's tablet will very likely be something like a large iPod Touch. It will probably work just like the iPhone, run iPhone apps, have an on-screen keyboard and connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi.

It might also sport a few features that the iPod Touch does not -- for example, a separate wireless keyboard, mobile broadband (for an additional monthly fee on your AT&T account) and a front-facing camera for videoconferencing.

Most intriguing is the direction Apple will take with software. The easy and cheap thing to do would be to install iPhone OS 3.0. But I think Apple will install a version of Mac OS X running an iPhone-like UI. That OS should be multitasking, and run iPhone apps as gadgets, rather than full-screen.

Remember when Steve Jobs first announced the iPhone in January, 2009? He sent the fanboy audience into spasms of ecstasy when he asserted unambiguously that "iPhone runs OS X." That was the last time I heard anyone from Apple say that. Now, the iPhone is said to run the iPhone OS -- something separate and distinct from the Mac OS X.

I believe it's Apple's long-term vision to have its mobile devices run OS X, and to have OS X sport the iPhone UI.

And that's what's so important about the rumored tablet. It represents the future of Apple -- and the future of personal computing.

Why the Tablet Changes Everything

Observers who observe that Apple is getting into the tablet or netbook business tend to miss the Big Picture. And the picture here is very big indeed.

When we think of tablet PCs, we tend to think of existing offerings from Dell or HP that may or may not convert into clamshell laptops. These device are usually too expensive and too sluggish, have pen-stylus input that doesn't at all feel like writing on paper, and they tend to be bulky awkward. As a result of all this, tablets aren't very compelling to most people.

Apple's tablet will have none of these features. Because it will run either a streamlined version of OS X or the iPhone OS, plus very small and light iPhone Apps, it will be fast and zippy. The price will be less than half what the cheapest PC tablets are. It will use finger input, not a stylus. And it should be much thinner than a PC tablet.

Next Page: Mac users will call for MORE! (and Apple will oblige)

Apple's tablet will also share none of the features that make netbook computing so irritating. While netbook screens feel ultra cramped, the Apple tablet screen will feel expansive -- even when the screen is the same size. The reason is that that netbooks usually run a user interface designed for a bigger screen, and the Apple tablet will run one designed for a smaller screen.

If Apple or one of its partners sells a separate physical wireless keyboard -- forget about it. All motivation to own and use a netbook will be gone in an instant.

If the Apple tablet is appealing to use -- and if they do it right it will be the most appealing computer ever -- millions of people will use it as their main mobile device in situations where they would otherwise use a netbook or a laptop. People will get used to doing real work on it, and app developers will step up and offer real applications.

If you're having trouble envisioning this, an MBA student at Georgia State University cobbled together this video, which shows what this might look and feel like.

The user community will call for more, More, MORE! And Apple will happily oblige. But more what?

More screen. The first tablet should be about 10 inches, according to the rumor. The next one could be 17, then 21, then 41.

The 41-inch touch-Mac will of course not be a mobile device. It will sport a drafting-table like design that swivels. It will tilt up for presentations, TV and movies, and down flat to serve as a physical desk or tabletop. All these devices will have on-screen keyboards, but the big ones will have optional physical keyboards. Mice will be obsolete.

Apple has been working on this for years, as has Microsoft and dozens of major university laboratories.

In fact, Microsoft already ships a multi-touch PC, which it calls Surface -- but only to businesses who use them for limited marketing purposes. Microsoft this week opened up its Surface Partner Community to all existing Microsoft partners, which includes a whopping 640,000 developers.

Microsoft will probably start with a desktop version of Surface, and work with partners to increasingly offer smaller versions and mobile versions. Apple, on the other hand, will probably start small with a tablet and evolve upward. I'm sure will see several multi-touch UIs for Linux.

Yes, there will be competition. But I believe it will be Apple's tablet that mainstreams the next-generation user interface for computing. If the rumors are true -- and I believe and hope they are -- the future begins in October.

ALSO SEE: iPhone Apps: the Top 46 Oddest

AND: Phone Apps for 3.0 OS and the iPhone 3GS: 50 Downloads

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