The Apple Tablet: Some Possibly Answered Questions

By  |  Monday, July 27, 2009 at 5:08 pm

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.

Without any further ado:

What will the size be?

That’s going to be largely determined by the screen’s dimensions. A rumor from a couple of weeks ago says that the tablet will have a 9.7-inch screen, which would give the tablet roughly the dimensions of a typical netbook–except that it would be much, much thinner. On a netbook, a screen that’s 10 inches or so feels a tad cramped, in part because it usually runs at a resolution that’s lower than modern versions of Windows were designed to look good in. But assuming that the tablet runs a variant of the iPhone OS, we’re talking about an interface that’s already proven that it can look nice and work well with only 480-by-320 pixels on a 3.5-inch screen. If the tablet has 9.7 inches and something like 1024-by-600 pixels, it would look even better.

What OS will it run?

This one seems like a safe bet–it’ll use a version of the iPhone OS that supports larger screens and any tablet features not present in the iPhone and iPod Touch, but is otherwise pretty much the same OS we already know. The tablet will sport high-res versions of all the iPhone apps that make sense, plus some new ones.

What will the interface be like?

Very much like the iPhone, I’d think, except with more real estate. Some pundits are making noises about fancier virtual keyboards, but I think the most likely scenario is a keyboard that’s a lot like the one on the iPhone, and one which Apple doesn’t expect you to use any more than you use an iPhone keyboard. The tablet also won’t have handwriting input of any sort–that would require a stylus, and if the tablet involves a stylus I’ll eat this post. This device is going to be optimized for Web surfing, music, movies, very light e-mail, and other applications that do’t involve much data entry.

How will we get new apps?

Through the App Store, of course. Apple will make it reasonably easy for developers to rejigger their software to run on the tablet, and they’ll come to it in droves–quickly enough that Apple can issue a press release bragging about the thousands of available tablet apps within a few weeks of the device’s release.

It’ll have the iTunes Store, right?

How could it not?

Will it kill the Kindle?

Probably not, but I’m very curious about whether Apple will tout it as an e-book reader. I tend to think that it won’t sell e-books itself, but it’s certainly plausible it’ll work with someone else to do so. If the tablet had built-in Kindle compatibility and a good version of Amazon’s Kindle bookstore, it would be really cool–but maybe Amazon is too competitive with Apple on the music and movie front to be a likely partner, and maybe Amazon would prefer that Apple devices don’t get too good at displayng Kindle content. Barnes and Noble? Maybe, although it just announced plans to work with Plastic Logic. Borders? It hawks the Sony e-reader in its stores and doesn’t seem very tech-savvy. I’m stuck, but I hope that the tablet turns out to be a solid e-reader, one way or another. Maybe Apple will simply do nothing and let third parties pick up the slack. Which they would.

Possible end-run: If Apple built in support for something like the Zinio Reader, it could make the tablet a much better magazine reader than the Kindle, and would let Apple launch with a bunch of magazines already available. And the existence of Zinio on the tablet would instantly cause lots of other major magazines to hop on the Zinio bandwagon. Or perhaps Apple could cook up its own Zinio-like platform and start signing deals with the likes of Time Inc. and Conde Nast.

How much storage will it have?

If price were no issue, more would be better–especially to hold movies. With flash memory, however, price is an issue…a major one. I’d like to think that the tablet will have 128GB of storage, but 64GB might be more plausible. And it could be 32GB–the same as a top-of-the-line iPod Touch or iPhone. It won’t go below that, though.

Of course, I’m assuming here that the tablet’s storage will be solid-state. It’s not inconceivable that Apple will give the device a hard drive–in which case it could have something really roomy, like 160GB. Come to think of it, that seems possible, since the tablet will have enough room and it would really help to bring the price down.

What will the battery life be like?

Better than an iPhone, and good enough that Apple will be able to say that you can use the tablet all day without worrying about recharging. But not anything like Kindle territory. You’ll want to plug this sucker in at night.

Random cool possibility: Maybe it’ll use the same long-life, earth-friendly battery as current MacBooks.

How about connectivity?

Well, Wi-Fi for sure. Almost certainly Bluetooth, since it would be nice for listening to music or making VoIP calls via a wireless headset, and is needed for iPhone OS 3.0′s new peer-to-peer networking. Hey, Bluetooth would even let you connect to a real keyboard (which doesn’t seem unthinkable) and possibly a mouse. (which sounds unwieldy and unlikely).

The big unknown is whether the tablet will have some form of cellular broadband. If it did, that would make the rumors that the tablet will be sold through Verizon make sense. But I’m doubtful about the recent scuttlebutt that Verizon is rushing to roll out its LTE network in time for the tablet. I just don’t think that it’ll have enough LTE coverage soon enough to make it likely that it’s about to start selling a tablet that’s dependent on next-generation wireless. So I’m guessing that if the tablet has cellular broadband, it’s got good old fashioned Verizon EvDO. Unless it’s somehow an EvDO device that will support LTE, too.

Other features?

A front-mounted camera, more like the iSight on MacBooks than the rear-mounted one on iPhones, and useful for iChat, which the tablet will have. Conceivably GPS, although it could also just rely on cell towers and Wi-Fi networks to get a general sense of where you are. Maybe an SD slot, now that Apple has officially acknowledged they’re really useful. No USB or FireWire.

What about components? What sort of CPU and graphics will this thing have?

I really don’t know and am not even going to hazard a guess about whether it’ll contain a processor from Apple’s PA Semiconductor subsidiary.

Anything utterly surprising?

Everyone’s assuming the tablet won’t have a physical keyboard. But there’s a long tradition of tablet devices with physical keyboards, and I don’t think it’s utterly unthinkable that this one will have one of some sort. It would certainly make it useful for some tasks that a no-keyboard tablet wouldn’t do well.

Okay, how much will it cost?

More than a netbook (which is to say $500 at the very cheapest) and less than a $999 MacBook. One rumor says $800–that seems high unless it tumbles as quickly as the original $599 price for an iPhone did. On the other hand, the official unsubsidized price of a 32GB iPhone 3GS is $699, and the tablet will likely be a more powerful, better-equipped device in at least some respects.

On the other hand, if the tablet is sold through Verizon and does have some sort of cellular broadband, it may be sold at a subsidized price. I can’t see it costing less than $500 under any circumstances, but maybe you’ll be able to get $1000 worth of hardware for $600 or thereabouts. You’d think, though, that requiring a monthly service plan for the tablet will greatly limit its appeal, especially to folks who have phones with carriers other than Verizon. Maybe there will be both subsidized and unsubsidized models.

Any other possible answers?

No. But maybe you’ve got some, or want to dispute some of the ones I just threw out?

 
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19 Comments For This Post

  1. Jordan Says:

    “No USB or FireWire.”
    ________________________

    Are you insane? everything has USB. Almost every tablet has USB. Apple is almost forced to have USB on this tablet.

    “Random cool possibility: Maybe it’ll use the same long-life, earth-friendly battery as current MacBooks.”
    _________________________

    Actually, the iPhone’s battery lasts longer than the MacBook Pro’s. 9 hours Wifi, 10 hours video playback, 30 hours music playback, 300 hours standby. The MacBook Pro only has 7 hours of “Wireless activity.”

    “A front-mounted camera, more like the iSight on MacBooks than the rear-mounted one on iPhones, and useful for iChat, which the tablet will have.”
    __________________________

    Okay, the iPhone has a 3.2 MP camera, whereas the iMac only has a 1.2 MP camera. I say they use the iPhone’s camera with the iMac’s microphone.

    “Everyone’s assuming the tablet won’t have a physical keyboard. But there’s a long tradition of tablet devices with physical keyboards, and I don’t think it’s utterly unthinkable that this one will have one of some sort. It would certainly make it useful for some tasks that a no-keyboard tablet wouldn’t do well.”
    ___________________________

    Like what? The advantages of a soft keyboard are many. For one, it is easy to switch keyboard languages and for 2, it is more easy to access symbols and things of the like. If the iPhone had had a physical keyboard, the keyboard would have to be way confusing with small little symbols on the keys and would be required to have a function key. Also, if any there is going to be any bilingual users using this thing, it would be a major help by having the international keyboard, like on the iPhone.

  2. Michael Says:

    > 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.)

    If everyone is wrong, and there are more than zero people, it follows that someone is wrong. (“Or” in this context is usually exclusive)

  3. Dave Barnes Says:

    It will have: Magic Fairy Dust.

  4. Simon Says:

    Much better article than a lot of the guff out there.
    I suspect that while the UI will, by its very nature, have more in common with iPhone OS than Mac OS X, it will be much more scalable given the increased flexibility of such an increase in screen real estate.
    I wonder if it couldn’t be the start of a system that Apple gradually uses to replace the Mac OS. The iPhone OS was a clean slate for Apple. With no existing user base to think of, they were free to take much greater control of the platform than they ever had before. This has allowed them to develop a system that is much more secure than Mac OS or Windows will ever be and one where every add-on, be it hardware or software, be it from Apple or from a third party, can be money in the bank for Apple.
    If they can bring similar dynamics to full size OSes, they will.
    This could be positive in some ways (no software piracy, no malware) but at the expense of a certain amount of innovation.
    Napster, which started the digital music revolution that Apple then used to return to centre-stage, could never have existed on such a platform.
    Does all that sound like a lot of incoherent rambling? Must read it later and see…

  5. Chris Bennett Says:

    Surely in view of what has happened in the MBP range the tablet will have an SD slot. I think it will also be able to receive input from a bluetooth keyboard as well as have it’s on own-screen keyboard. If the graphics chip is powerful enough and we could easily say the the Nvidia 9400 is such a chip then perhaps we could also see a mini-displayport or hdmi port. This then makes the tablet a portable version of the apple tv.

    It makes wonder about how it would stand vertically and whether there would be a dock available that offers additional expansion ports.

    Apple never launches anything without considerable big name third party developer support so I would expect there would be something media related in-place come launch day that users can take advantage of immediately. Not to mention the ability to run app store programmes.

    If this tablet ever appears I would think it would deliver a killing blow (in tandem with the iphone) to Sony’s handheld gaming systems.

    It won’t be cheap. Apple have always priced their stuff on what their device can do not on what other devices offer – therefore they will probably not want to directly compare the their version of a tablet to the existing netbook category of computers. They will want to create and own their own device category and market it based on it’s own merits. The advantages of supplying your own hardware and software makes it easy to sell the benefits against existing devices. If Apple are cooking up their own chips then I imagine they won’t see the light of day unless they are something unique and pretty special. Low heat and more powerful than something they can buy off another supplier.

  6. Stark Ravin Says:

    It WILL have a stylus and the whole device will be positioned as a notetaking, productivity device. Expect integrated broadband with iChat videoconferencing to collaborate with co-workers and get work done while mobile.

  7. Chris Bennett Says:

    Apple have shown a massive interest of late in resolution independence. With a variety of screen sizes and multiple versions of OSX you can now see where this might be all leading.

  8. ScottGFX Says:

    within the past year I had an idea; “Wouldn’t it be neat if they could somehow recreate the ‘album experience’ with some kind of digital content. Perhaps it would be Flash based, but you would have things like cover art and lyrics to look at.”

    Wish I knew a patent attorney. :)

    Think about it… The Beatles with “Sgt. Peppers” were pioneers in giving their public a gate-fold cover with lyrics… and extras in the jacket. No one else had done it before. And who does Steve Jobs (And I for that matter) admire? Why the Beatles, of course!

  9. techs4u Says:

    Nice to hear that finally Apple is working on this. But 2010 is too late for Apple to come out with a Tablet. There are already so many in the market. With too many choices, Apple’s market share will be extremely low.

  10. Justin Says:

    Verizon would be a stupid move. Think of how many Apple fans are AT&T custers due to iPhone exclusivity. It goes against Apple’s mess free mindset; Apple doesn’t want us to carry 2 cell contracts. It would be bad for their business model.

  11. Justin Says:

    customers*, sorry iPhone typos.

  12. Joe Says:

    Why not streaming media from Sirius? They just launched a new satellite designed for handhelds. Movies as you drive… music videos… ????

  13. Uuo Says:

    Can be a coincidence that the rumoured launch date is the same as Snow Leopard? There must be some chance that the iTab would run 10.6.

  14. John Baxter Says:

    “Ships first quarter next year” and “announced in September” aren’t mutually exclusive. Apple’s first quarter of next year starts October 1.

  15. Walt French Says:

    Zinio ?!? Not unless they threw out the original team and rebuilt it since the mess I saw.

    The zinio mags I got allowed me to see a page in either (1) a double-page spread that was impossible to read on a hi-res 17″ laptop, or else (2) a zoomed-in version that was easy on the eyes, but required clunky scrolling to read the multi-column layouts that were completely display-unaware.

    These same mags refused to adapt to Zinio at all, and Zinio was clueless about whole-publication navigation, too, so “continues on page 16″ turned into “you didn’t really want to finish this article, did you?” After those kind of turnoffs, fake page flips that were cute the first time turned into, “why did they not put their design into making this POS work better?”

    Apple LIKES to disrupt evolving markets where great design can be a paradigm-shifter, not peddle me-too shovelware. If they go for eBooks, look for something more like the YouTube mockup, “Possible ou Probable” (yeah, en Français), even if it is rather rich.

  16. Richard Says:

    Harry:
    Good article.

    You wrote, “…possibly a mouse. (which sounds unwieldy and unlikely).”

    A pointing device when the machine is hooked to a keyboard is a necessity. Also it would nice if it could hook to a larger screen so it would function as a home/office computer when tethered and a portable device when not.

  17. mike Says:

    I’d like to see it slip into a dock with the capability of being used as a secondary display to my Mac with multi-touch enabled.

    I’ll expect two cameras, both with video. One facing the user for iChat and another for broadcasting. Tie that into a version of iMovie on the tablet and you’ve got something pretty cool. With that said, it should have stereo mic’s for stereo audio capture.

    Not sure about the stylus. Using my iPhone I wonder what the need for a stylus is anymore. Then again, if the iTablet can have something akin to Microsoft’s OneNote, a stylus is a must. I’d love to see a OneNote killer.

    My two cents…

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  19. Tablet Reviews Says:

    Everything is live now and it's nice to compare reality with all these predictions and wishes ;)

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