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Random thoughts on the iSlate

January 5, 2010

Unless you live in a hole somewhere, you’ve probably run up against rumors that Apple is developing some sort of tablet computer thing. And if that’s as far as you’ve got, Gizmodo has posted an exhaustive guide to the various rumors floating around.

As per usual with highly anticipated Apple products, pretty much everything is open to conjecture at this point, but everyone seems reasonably certain about a few things:

  1. The tablet will possibly be called the iSlate
  2. It will be unveiled toward the end of January, and ship in March
  3. Expect a multi-touch screen, a la the iPhone. Probably 10-11″.
  4. It may run a version of the iPhone OS or Mac OS X. Or a hybrid.
  5. Expect multimedia capabilities. Music, videos, and some sort of e-reader functionality.
  6. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are all but certain. 3G is a possibility, as are physical USB ports.
  7. Everyone is assuming it’ll cost in the ballpark of $800.

Wait, a Tablet? Huh?

That’s the big question everyone is asking. After all, tablet PCs have been tried before, and they mostly suck. What could Apple possibly bring to the table(t)?

I don’t even pretend to know. But what I do know is that Apple has a knack for rethinking product categories. Consider the iPhone. It seems silly now, but back before its unveiling, people were asking similar questions about what Apple could bring to the smartphone that other’s hadn’t. Well…now we know.

So what’s the tablet all about?

Nothing less than the rethinking of the personal computer

Now…all this is pure conjecture. I have no idea how much – if any – of it will come to pass. But I think Apple took a look at the rise of the netbook and the race to the bottom in the lower end of the computer market, and decided to do something about it.

That something is not a netbook, for two reasons. First, the risk of cannibalizing MacBook sales. Second, the risk of being mocked for a too-high pricetag (see the $800 Sony Vaio P).

Instead, I think Apple is looking at how people use their netbooks, laptops, and yes, iPhones. And I think the tablet/iSlate/whatever is going to be their answer to casual computing going forward.

What do I mean by casual computing? Simple. E-mail, browsing the internet, consuming multimedia content (music, videos, e-books), and light productivity work (word processing and such). Basically the stuff most of us use our computers for most of the time.

And to do that, I see the tablet taking two forms, in a way.

The first form is just the tablet. You carry it around with you, operate it via multi-touch and type on a virtual keyboard, pretty much the way you do with an iPhone. Only you’ll have a lot more screen area. I’m not sure what other software enhancements we’ll see. Tablet specific apps? A specialized, battery-saving e-book reader? Who knows.

The second form is the tablet combined with a keyboard, turning it in to something akin to a laptop. Apple already makes a wireless Bluetooth keyboard, and I’d guess that’s a possibility, but imagine if you will a dock of some sort that includes a keyboard, trackpad, and maybe some beefed up hardware…additional RAM or disk space or something. You seat the tablet into this dock, and all of the sudden you’ve got something resembling a small MacBook.

So basically…the iSlate as I see it could act as either a standalone tablet, or in conjunction with optional peripherals could be rigged up as something of a pseudo-laptop.

How this all works for Apple

The iSlate as I’m envisioning it would be a pretty flexible little device. But it’s important to remember Apple’s angle here – profit. What’s in it for them? Wouldn’t a tablet/pseudo-laptop cannibalize their MacBook sales as surely as a netbook?

Yes. And that’s exactly the point.

Right now, the MacBook is the red-headed stepchild of the Apple lineup. Sure, it got a recent warming over, but it’s also got the 13″ MacBook Pro sitting right on top of it.

I think this iSlate thing is the reason the MacBook line has been neglected. Think about it. The iSlate will almost certainly be cheaper to build than a MacBook (cheaper chips, cheaper case, no keyboard, fewer pieces, etc). And while it will be priced lower, too, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up having a higher profit-per-unit. Now add the keyboard/trackpad dock peripheral thing and charge an extra $150-200, and you could feasibly create a product that costs more than a MacBook, but yields a far higher profit margin.

When looked at that way…who cares if the iSlate cannibalizes MacBooks? Or replaces them completely? Power users will still have the MacBook Pro models, casual users would end up with a more flexible – if not quite as powerful – device, and the standalone tablet could offer a brilliant complementary computer to someone like me, who’d love to switch to an iMac for intensive photo and video editing, but still have something I could lounge with on the couch or take to a coffee shop or whatnot.

Of course, my prediction for this thing could be WAY off. Heck, it probably is. Either way, we’ll see in a few weeks.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 5, 2010 12:55 pm

    Nice predictions, analysis and such. Here’s were I see this thing working for Apple: capture the non-desk-sitting professional market, re-invent the eBook reader and create a flexible option for both desk and couch computing. Oh and don’t forget the personal gaming potential (if it has an excelerometer).

    To make this thing a viable and flexible platform, in my opinion, it better have an angled dock with a Mini DisplayPort so that it can hook up to an Apple LED Cinema Display as the primary desktop monitor and your right, Bluetooth to a keyboard and mouse better be a no-brainer. In fact, if the dock’s built right, that’s where all the ports could be housed. This could be awesome.

  2. Matt permalink*
    January 5, 2010 2:11 pm

    Yep…I think “transformability” is the key to this thing. The ability to function as a tablet, pseudo-laptop or pseudo-desktop would make it a lot more appealing to a lot more people. I could actually see this kind of thing becoming very popular in an office environment, even. But we’ll see what’s what soon enough…

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