Predicting the Apple Tablet

The computer press is buzzing with rumors of an Apple tablet computer.  I don’t think anyone knows anything for sure, and I expect Steve Jobs to wow people when he finally announces whatever he plans to show off as his next big product.  It may be a tablet computer, or it might be something surprisingly different.  Most people speculate it will be something to compete against netbooks and ebook readers, both of which are hot products that Apple currently doesn’t compete against.  A lot of rumor sites show an artist conception of a giant iPod touch like device.  Some sites are even predicting it will cost $800-900 dollars.

Well, if the Apple tablet is to compete against netbooks and ebooks the price needs to be a whole lot closer to $400.  I do think a touch screen tablet is the perfect competition to a netbook, but I’m not sure about such a device replacing ebooks.  Maybe for reading magazines, newspapers and web content, but not for reading fiction.  Think about it, reading fiction is something people do for hours on end, and imagine holding a heavy device that long?  I think the Kindle and Nook are too big.  My ideal ebook would be mostly screen, about the size between a mass market paperback page and a trade paperback page, weigh next to nothing, be extremely durable, and cheap enough so I wouldn’t be afraid to carry it everywhere I go.  That doesn’t describe any of the Apple tablet rumors.

If a new Apple device is going to be rolled out it must not compete with the iPhone or the MacBook, and that puts it squarely into the netbook space.  Netbooks have keyboards and work just like bigger computers.  A tablet doesn’t.  So how many of your everyday routines can be enhanced by a 10 inch touch screen?  For me, that would be something to replace magazines and newspapers.  If bookworms balk at paying $260 for an ebook reader to make novel reading easier, will newshounds accept spending $800 to make reading the news easier?  Not me.

You can get a 22” LCD monitor for around $200, and sometimes a lot less.  For reading the New York Times, magazines and blogs, I’d love to have a monitor I could hold in my lap and read while sitting in my La-Z-Boy.  A 10-12” screen would probably be ideal, but it must be thin and very light.  It doesn’t need to be a computer, but just a reader, maybe just a portable Acrobat reader.  And I don’t want to pay more than the cost of a monitor to have a monitor I can hold in my lap to read.

I’m not sure I’d even want video and music from such a device, especially if it will raise the price significantly.  I just want to read what I normally sit at the computer and read, but in a comfortable chair.  My Zune, iPod Nano and Sansa Clip are perfect for audiobooks and music.  My iPod touch mostly goes untouched.  My netbook mostly goes untouched.  I just don’t do that much on the go computing.

The iPhone was brilliant.  The iPod was brilliant.  Do we really need the iTablet?  How many more useful devices can we use?  Steve Jobs does have an amazing track record of creating devices we didn’t have before but can’t live without now:  Apple II, Mac, iPod and iPhone.  But I prefer a PC to a Mac.  The Sansa Clip is easier to carry than my iPod Nano or touch, and even though I’d love an iPhone I won’t spend the money.  The $64,000 question is whether or not Steve Jobs will announce something I will run out and buy.  I’d own a Mac if they were cheaper, so I’m guessing I’ll be waiting on the HP tablet computer.

JWH – 1/7/10

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