Mac Corner: Tablet schmablet ...   

By Larry Grinnell, Palm Beach Phoenix Apple Users Group

larry grinnellSo, the rumor mills are all abuzz about a possible new product introduction from Apple — a tablet computing device, so they all say. What the heck is Apple doing developing a tablet computer — if indeed they are? The competition seems pretty sure Apple’s up to something, considering almost all of them are announcing their own devices.

First, we probably need to define what a tablet computer means.

A number of companies have produced tablet devices with Microsoft Windows operating systems, which were, for the most part, just small (13 inch screen or less) laptop computers with a rotatable, touch-sensitive screen that also permits data entry with a stylus-type device.

There’s even a Mac-based tablet that meets that definition right now, with the $1649 Modbook from Axiotron. Axiotron’s U.S. partner, Other World Computing, does the hard work, converting a standard MacBook into a Modbook, with solid, quality construction. But that’s probably not what Apple has in mind — otherwise, they would have come out with a device like the Modbook a long time ago.

I think we all like to think we know what Steve Jobs is thinking, but time has consistently proved most of us wrong. That said, I think Steve looked at the Modbook and saw the whole concept as inferior and not, well, Apple-like. It’s not elegant, and the add-on software didn’t come from Apple, hence, by definition, it’s no good.

In spite of all that, Apple permitted the Modbook to exist, which surprised many, especially when you consider how they responded to the completely non-threatening non-competition from Miami’s Psystar, who tried to make Mac clones using basic black-box Wintel PCs. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty — especially considering Psystar sold fewer than 800 computers. Oh, and at least until recently, Steve’s been in heavy denial mode regarding a tablet product from Apple.

But back to the matter at hand, the rumor mills seem to agree about a lot of things, thanks to getting some good intelligence from Apple suppliers in the Far East. It looks like the Apple Tablet will be more like an iPhone on steroids, with a 10 inch diagonal screen, running an enhanced version of the iPhone version of MacOS X.

Nearly the entire surface will be display. It will have Wi-Fi and some form of telephone interconnect, though one has to wonder how users will use it as a phone. Most likely the same wired earplug/microphone combo used by the current iPhone, and maybe a speakerphone function. Oh, great, now there will be zillions more folks sharing their calls with us over their speakerphones. Weren’t the Bluetooth headsets bad enough?

Data entry? Probably from the touch-sensitive screen, and perhaps from wireless keyboards.

Rumored price is supposed to be around $800, though some say it could be as much as $1,000. The belief is that these devices will be used to bolster the bottom end of the Apple product lineup.

How would we use one of these? Like many members of the Mac press, I believe this is going to be an extension to Apple’s dominance in media distribution, and could blow some of the new eBooks, like Amazon’s Kindle, out of the water, though much depends upon the deals Apple makes with content owners. Certainly Rupert Murdoch of News Corp., owner of the Fox Network, the Wall Street Journal, and many other content creators, would be a natural.

 He has made it very clear that the days of free news content are pretty much over. He’s proven it can work, based upon the very successful premium content business he has built from his Wall Street Journal acquisition. The New York Times is similarly sniffing around this area to try to monetize their electronic content while they still have a business to run. They tried once before, but failed miserably, as have most content providers. Advertising revenue has been, shall we say, disappointing, and the current economic hard times haven’t exactly helped.

Then there is video. With a bigger 10 inch screen, video will be much more enjoyable, and should help grow the iTunes Store video business. On the other side, don’t expect Apple to make too many inroads in book downloads, at least not right away.

Finally, is this the opportunity Apple needs to break away from AT&T? There’s been a lot of buzz that Verizon would love to partner up, and with their superior 3G network, this might be a critical requirement.

Already the iPhones have all but brought AT&T’s 3G network to its knees, especially in heavy iPhone-use areas like New York and the San Francisco Bay area. What would a device like a media-centric device like the Tablet do to AT&T’s already overtaxed infrastructure? It’s way past time for a new carrier partner. It could mean the difference between a successful product launch and yet another tech gadget that gets placed on the shelf or unceremoniously dumped in the recycle bin.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Readers are welcome to comment on this or any Mac Corner columns by visiting the Palm Beach Phoenix blog as well as by writing the editor of Palm Beach

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About Larry Grinnell: Larry has been working with Macintosh and Windows PCs for over 25 years and worked as a senior technical writer and IT support professional for a major midwest-based consumer electronics and telecommunications equipment manufacturer here in South Florida. His musings on a wide variety of topics from computers to jazz guitar to strange foreign cars from the 1950s can be viewed at the website. Click here to reach him by email.

palm beach phoenix logoWriters of this column are members of the Palm Beach Phoenix Apple User Group, a nonprofit organization for Apple Computing Device Users, recognized by Apple Inc., with the purpose of providing educational training and coaching to its members (students, professionals and seniors alike) in a cordial social environment. The club meets the second Saturday (1-4 p.m.) and fourth Wednesday (6-8 p.m.) of each month at the Fire Station #2, 4301 Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach (just two block south of Southern Boulevard). Click here to visit their website. Click here to reach them by email.

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