Some ‘”what if” thoughts on the Apple Tablet

Just what the world needs, right? Yet another post on the rumoured, almost legendary, Apple Tablet.

What I thought I would do here is, putting my personal feelings about Apple and its products aside, talk about what the Apple Tablet would have to be in order for it to be considered (for me) a successful tablet. I have already written about my view on what a modern tablet should look like. I have also written a couple of times on why tablets have failed to sell, and on the adoption of tablets by young people.

I could also write about the new moves by Microsoft and its partners on the tablet front. Unfortunately, there is not much to talk about there. I am not going to go down the path others have and declare the new tablets shown in the keynote to be crap – they just did not show enough to really judge one way or the other, or to be very excited.

So, lets talk about Apple.

My first question about the Apple tablet is this: What is the target market? Is it primarily a consumer product? Or is it targeted at business users? Apple has a good track record, especially in the last decade, of building products for the consumer market. There is no denying that. On the other hand, Apple’s success in the business world (outside of very specific areas like graphic design, etc.) has been limited, probably because it has not been a focus for them. In either case, the question also arises as to what is the target user group in the market? In the consumer market, is the target young people or all age groups? it the target techies or “normals”?

This is an important question, as this will define the features that are important in the product. I must admit that most of my views are driven by business use scenarios. I use my tablet for work first, and for personal use second. I am also in an older age group (in Apple’s market) – I am 47. My preferred mode of interaction is with a stylus – emulating “pen and paper”. I like to scribble notes, I like to make drawings – all part of brainstorming. As i said in a previous post, this is not necessarily how younger people prefer to interact. For the most part, my kids (all in college/university) are not all that comfortable with handwriting, much preferring a keyboard of some kind.

So what are the implications of this question for the Apple tablet? Well, if you are going to produce a device to work in the business work, the fact is (for good or bad) it pretty much has to coexist and play well with the infrastructure in place. Right now, that means it has to handle MS Office documents in a meaningful way. It has to work well with Exchange Server. It has to deal gracefully with authentication in an MS world. Like Microsoft or not, that is the world as it is now, and if you want to be a business device, you have to play nicely in that world.

If it is targeted as a consumer device, this obviously becomes much less important. The consumer market is dominated by browsing, media handling, and social interaction.

A consumer oriented tablet may also be able to succeed without an ink interface. I do not think a business device can. This has hardware implications, as well. If it is not handled properly, ink and touch do not work well together (especially for us lefties). You try to write, and your hand is touching the screen, which is interpreted as a touch and nothing works well. HP has gotten around this by have two digitizers – one for touch and one for the stylus. When the stylus gets close to the screen, the touch digitizer deactivates. THis is not the only way to handle it, but it must be handled if you are going to have both touch and ink. 

The other fundamental question about the Apple tablet (for me) is the OS. What Apple’s plans here? I see four possibilities here:

  1. A variation of the iPhone OS
  2. OSX as is (not likely)
  3. OSX tailored for the tablet
  4. A completely new OS (also not likely)

While I have very successfully and happily used windows (XP, Vista, and 7) on tablets, I have no doubt that a new approach could make things much better – face it, computer interaction has not evolved in a fundamental way since the mid 90s (maybe the mid 80s).

I am hoping that the answer is 3. I really do not want to see the Apple Tablet end up as an iPhone on steroids. I have said before that the tablet could benefit from a completely new interaction paradigm, and it will be interesting to see what Apple can do in that area. Unlike many others, I do not see the iPhone as the ultimate achievement in UI design. It is good as far as it goes, but it certainly does not scale to larger application design.

As much as I dislike Apple, I am definitely eager to see what they can do in this area.

So what is the key to success for the Apple Tablet? Obviously, anything Apple releases will have a certain amount of success within the apple fan base. But is that enough to sustain a tablet product line?

Looking back on the iPhone, when it was launched it enjoyed tremendous success because it was new, cool, and different. That would not have been enough for sustained success, however, without the massive number of applications that have been created for it, with a clean, simple distribution model and low costs. I would argue that the long term success of the iPhone is more due to the App Store than to the device itself.

Similarly, look at the Windows vs Mac battle. If ever there was an opportunity for the Mac to steal market share from Windows than during the Vista fiasco. And while Apple did gain market during this time, it really should have gained more. Why didn’t it? The biggest barrier to most Windows users migrating to Mac (especially corporate users and IT departments) is the lack of application support on the Mac. No matter how much I might like OSX and the Mac hardware, it is no good to me if the applications I need personally or or professionally are not supported.

So the key to long term success of the Apple tablet is application support. It needs to support enough of the applications and environments people use everyday, and it needs an active, dynamic developer community driving excitement like the iPhone has. This has been a fundamental point of failure for the Windows-based tablets – almost no support at all from application developers (even the ones inside Microsoft itself!).

Lets hope Apple does it right – because without some injection of new thinking, I believe the tablet device will die off.

Excellent discussion on Apple (and other) Tablets…

Check out Microsoft’s Slate: Exactly Unlike Apple’s Upcoming Tablet – though the post is self is really kind of biased (but hey, it is on a blog called theAppleBlog after all), there is some really good discussion going on in some of the coments (after the first few Apple fanboy entries). And the discussion is really what all of this Web 2.0 stuff really is all about, right?

The Wonder Of Apple’s Tablet – washingtonpost.com

The Wonder Of Apple’s Tablet – washingtonpost.com

Well, well, well….yet another “hype” article for the rumoured (though probably real in some form) Apple Tablet. I must admit, that I am of two minds on the the Apple Tablet (what ever it is will be called). On the one hand, I am very interested in seeing what Apple does with the idea. Will it be a real tablet, or will it just be a big iPhone? Will it run the iPhone OS or a real operating system?

I am mostly concerned simply because it comes from Apple. I personally find Apple to be one of the most troubling companies on the planet. Their closed systems and closed attitude towards the rest of the computing world bother me. Even worse are Apple fans. I dread to see the Apple Tablet merely on the grounds that 6 months later all of Apple fandom will be declaring loudly “how brilliant Steve Jobs is – he invented the Tablet!”.

Back to the article in the Washington Post. The author rightfully asks the question “Why would anyone want a tablet computer?” I personally love them. I have been using them for years (remember this for next Christmas kids – APPLE DID/WILL NOT INVENT THE TABLET PC). I have written several other posts about why I like them, and where I would like them to go in the future. Right now I have two Tablets – one is a slate model which I love. The other is the convertible Tablet given out to attendees at Microsoft PDC . This one has a great multi-touch interface running Windows 7. Its only weakness is pour handwriting support due to interference between touch capabilities and handwriting. In the house we also have two HP Touchsmart convertible tablets. These both support multi-touch and handwriting extremely well, and are well priced at just under $1000 (in Canada).

(Note here that MS already has a multitouch interface that supports gestures, handwriting, and runs a real OS, so is useful beyond just being another gadget.)

Now for the stupidest statement in the Washington Post article (possibly the stupidest tech statement made this year):

“The truth is that most of us don’t understand the allure of a tablet computer because they’ve all sucked up until now.”

Ok, the author just revealed himself to either be a moron, woefully uninformed, or just completely lacking in objectivity (perhaps stemming from the Crunchpad association). There are a number of very good tablets out there (and have been for a number of years). Any of the tablets from Motion Computing are great, though they are not consumer oriented (I have been using an LE1600 personally for 4+ years). The HP tablets have been consistently good. I have also heard great things about Toshiba, Fujitsu, and Dell tablets. The one complaint I have about all of them (except maybe the HP Touchsmart) is that the prices are way too high, but that is improving.

I will say I really want more out of a Tablet, as I said in a previous post. But that does not mean that all of the existing devices suck. Such a broad generalization, is well, just stupid.

Here is another statement from the article:

We’ll be living in a future with Minority Report, Star Trek, and Avatar interactive technology

it is interesting to note that the user interface in Minority Report was actually inspired by another non-Apple device – the Microsoft Surface.

The last quote I will take from this article is

Part of it is that Apple has a sterling record with consumer-oriented products.

Well, seems to me that Apple has failed a few more times than the author mentions. Seems the Mac Book Air didn’t do so well. Going back much further, anyone remember Steve Job’s Newton? Going back even further, Apple could be the dominant desktop OS right now if not for Job’s immeasurable ego back in the 80s (has that changed at all?).

My big concern here is how much of the consumer community reads and believes unsubstantiated drivel like this, and so dismisses anything non-Apple without even looking at it.   

A big part of the blame for this has to go to Microsoft, as well, and their atrocious marketing department. Tablet PCs have been around since 2002, and yet I still get stopped everywhere I travel by folks asking what my tablet is. How is that for getting the word out on one of your coolest technologies? It does not help that the press does not like to write about anything Microsoft because it is not “cool” to support MS.

So please folks, remember this – multi-touch, gesture-based computing is real and available today, and it is not from Apple. In addition, it runs an OS that lets you use everything you have been used to using, and does not lock you in to buying everything you ever want through Apple. And, you can even replace your own battery, unlike most Apple devices 🙂

PS – More hype for the “Apple saves the tablet” community is here. Also there is an older article Why Have Tablets Flopped? Here Are Five Reasons referenced. Of the five reasons quoted, only one is valid – price. Note also that the only pictures they use are of the Newton – the only real failure of the bunch. It is really sad that all of the media writing about tablets seems to have drunk the Apple Koolaid.

Biking across Africa – lengthwise.

Well, I find this damned impressive!

A colleague of mine at T4G, David Saevitzon, is leaving in January to undertake a little bike ride from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South. TO give you some idea of the scope of this, David will be travelling some 11,800 km over a period of 120 days. David is also making this a charitable event, taking sponsorships to try to raise $10,000 for Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (Canada).

Check out the web site for David’s adventure, follow his progress, and maybe even sponsor him.

Off to PDC09

Really looking forward to the Microsoft Professional Developers’ Conference in LA this week – except for the getting up at 4 AM to get to the airport tomorrow!

There are a number of areas I am exciting about for the conference. On Monday I am in an all day workshop on Software in the Energy Economy which should be very interesting given a number of projects I am involved in lately regarding energy management systems and systainability support.

At the conference proper, other than the keynotes, there are a fair number of session I have put in my schedule related to Azure – still very much interested in cloud computing, even though I have had little time to look at it.

I am also planning to attend a number of sessions on Workflow Foundation 4.0, even though it will not be available in SharePoint 2010 (at least initially).

Then there are a number of sessions I want to go to just out of personal interest – those involving Silverlight, touch and multitouch applications, and many others. As always, far more things I want to learn than I could possibly have time for!

While there is some great content around SharePoint 2010, I will probably not focus on that since I got a lot of good SharePoint information at SPC09 a few weeks back.

I am hoping do more blogging from PDC than I did at SPC – not hard since I did not blog at all from SPC! Damn twittier took all of my time!

Using Twitter at a conference

I am finding an interesting use for Twitter at a conference. Normally I would be taking notes during the sessions. Instead, I am just tweeting the interesting points. Then, back in my room, I can pull up all my tweets for the day, and POOF – there are my notes for the day.

I think I may write a OneNote add-in to import my tweets to save them as my notes 🙂

Something different – a few astrophotos

Well, we finally got some decent weather last week (not raining, but not so hot and humid that I could not really see much), so I had a shot at some astrophotography. My equipment is:

  • Celestron CPC 1100 Telescope
  • Alt-az mount
  • Canon XSi DSLR camera

Since I do not (yet) have an equatorial wedge for my telescope, I am limited in the exposure lengths I can use to about 10-30 seconds before field rotation ruins the image.

My first attempt was a simple star picture – Albireo – which is a pretty double star in the constellation Cygnus. This is a stack of 10, 15 second exposures:

Albireo

My second attempt was of M13, a globular cluster in the constellation Hercules. This is a stack or 15, 15 second exposures:

M013_2

Finally, I decided to try M57, the Ring Nebula, in the constellation Lyra. This is a stack of 20, 15 second exposures:

M057_3

As I say, these are my first attempts at non-lunar, non-planetary images. I wanted to quickly work with a low number of images to stack initially, to see if I could get reasonable results. Next chance I get, I will focus more on one object, and go for a larger number of images to try to get more detail, better noise, etc. I am also just learning to use the image processing software, which is a major effort in and of itself.

(someday I will get a wedge, and be able to try longer individual exposures).

MyRoles iPhone App

image003

A little plug here for a couple of my co-workers at T4G (Fred Illies and Andrew Little) who have just released their MyRoles iPhone app to the iTunes AppStore.

In Fred’s words:

“I’m excited to announce that yesterday Andrew and I submitted MyRoles to the iTunes AppStore.  Once the approval process has been completed and it actually goes live on the AppStore I’ll send out another note.  (but with the insane amount of new apps submitted every day who knows how long it’ll be).

In the meantime, please check out our website at www.myroles.ca to get all the deets on why we think this zen-like to-do list can help people maintain some balance in their lives.  It lets you organize your to-do list by the various roles you play in your life.  You can also check out our MyRoles page on Facebook and you can follow MyRoles on Twitter.”

So, check it out – I would if I had an iPhone!