All eyes are pointing toward Apple and the impending release of a Mac tablet device; a powerful iPod touch without the pod, more of a pad, an iPad. Will such a product, which obviously won’t fit in your jeans pocket, be a small notebook, a Mac netbook, a PC tablet, or something else entirely. MacNightOwl’s Gene Steinberg phrased it differently, but the spirit is the same. “Is the iTablet a Product in Search of a Purpose?” In other words, what’s it good for?
The joy of the iPhone and the iPod touch is that they weigh just a few ounces and are easily transported. However, they are also surprisingly powerful portable computers and thus can handle a variety of tasks from email, Web surfing and amazingly robust gaming. Once you expand the screen from 3.5 inches to 10 inches, however, it’s no longer so easy to cart around. Suddenly you find yourself tossing it in a suitcase, a backpack, or a custom-configured carrying case. The form factor has morphed into that of a smaller notebook — or, shudder, shudder, netbook — and that creates complications.
The term is competing considerations, coined by my friend and co-Macophile, Ron McElfresh on Mac360. Basically, some attractive features are in conflict with other features. For example, a smaller 10-inch touch screen makes the device seem more portable than a MacBook Air, but you still can’t stick it in your pocket. Again, what’s it good for?
The novelty factor alone might be sufficient to sell millions of them before customers wake up and realize that such gear just might be little more than fancy substitutes for a real notebook, with such notable downsides as the lack of an integrated physical keyboard and trackpad.
It’s becoming more difficult for high profile tech companies to sell novelty. The PC, Mac or Windows, isn’t a novelty; they’ve stood the test of time. Ditto for the cellphone, and Apple’s incarnation brings more of a computing environment to the handheld device; again, not a novelty. As to the so-called iTablet, what’s it good for?
It would also be a great way for kids to watch movies on the road, in situations where the screen of the iPhone is just too small. Tasks that involve some sort of text input would also be accomplished in a far more efficient fashion. You might even be able to comfortably write an entire blog entry or a full-fledged manuscript on the larger virtual keyboard.
Those seem to be narrow purpose, niche needs, akin to early PC ads about computerizing recipes. Sure, it could do this, or even that, but either can’t be primary, and that’s the key word. Primary. What’s the primary purpose of the device? A notebook is portable yet nearly as powerful as a desktop Mac or PC. An iPhone and iPod touch bring synchronized applications, ease of use, games, utilities, and fabulous portability—a Mac-like experience in your pocket.
What does the Mac iTablet or Mac touch device bring that’s unique to that graveyard between handheld in-your-pocket devices and Mac notebooks? Graveyard? Yes. The tablet PCs are anything but a success. Netbooks? Super small notebooks at $300 are an inexpensive curiosity, but seldom used for much more than email, browsing, and chat. The user experience is poor and Apple loves a good user experience.
Apple has pointed to the known shortcomings of existing products, and broadly hinted at having better ideas should they decide to enter that market. Is an iTablet the solution or is there something else under Apple’s sleeves?
I’m going with the latter. My response is more indicative of Apple’s historical ability to take the complex and make it work well for the rest of us. The Mac is like that. So is the iPhone and iPod touch. If Apple can leverage all their ecosystems together—Mac, iPhone, iPod, MobileMe, iTunes Store, App Store—into a must have device that doesn’t stop us from buying other Apple products, then it’s a home run.
The difficulty Apple has is creating an add-on product, one that won’t cannibalize iPhone or iPod touch sales, and won’t cannibalize MacBook Pro sales, and yet be attractive to current customers, especially schools, which buy container loads of white plastic MacBooks because, well, they’re all Mac inside. With all the pre-announcement hype and speculation, whatever it is, it needs to be darn cool or my AAPL might start to look like a PALM. Going nowhere.
For now, let the waiting begin.