By Harry McCracken | Monday, July 27, 2009 at 5:08 pm
About 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
How could it not?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
No. But maybe you’ve got some, or want to dispute some of the ones I just threw out?