Editorial: Apple’s Tablet - Likely Transformative, Beyond The Sum Of Its Parts | iLounge Article

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Editorial: Apple’s Tablet - Likely Transformative, Beyond The Sum Of Its Parts

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge
Published: Monday, January 25, 2010
Articles Categories: Editorials

In two days, Apple will introduce its long-awaited tablet computer, and as the event approaches, I’d like to offer a little insight into what I—and the rest of iLounge’s editors—have been hearing and discussing about the device for the past year.

A few points need to be established up front. I hold no Apple stock, have received no Apple briefing on the Tablet, and know only what my sources have been whispering about it for months. You know from my years of work for iLounge that I have been far more willing than some to criticize Apple when it has made short-sighted, anti-consumer, or otherwise bad moves, and that I’ve been willing to live with the penalties issued for speaking truth to power. Nothing has changed in these regards, and I continue to believe that my job is to be honest, objective, and open with you at all times, regardless of what Apple does or doesn’t do. iLounge is not and will not be a place for false enthusiasm or mindless bandwagoning, and we only cheer the company on when it truly deserves praise.

That having been said, discussions with friends and family this weekend made me realize that something probably hasn’t been conveyed thoroughly enough over the past few months while tablet details were becoming concrete: iLounge’s editors are genuinely excited about what is about to take place this week. All of the rumblings, rumors, and back-and-forths on the tablet have obscured what is likely to be one of the most important events in Apple’s history—one that may well eclipse the iPhone in terms of directly measurable impact on people’s lives—and it’s worth an editorial to discuss why this is.

Back in September of last year, we published a list of Apple tablet (“iPad”) details that came from a highly reliable source. Less than a day later, after someone took and amplified the report, there was a lot of buzz surrounding our item #7:

“It is designed to expand the iPhone and iPod touch media concept to its next potential level: as a slate-like replacement for books and magazines, plus all of the media, gaming, app, and web functionality of the iPhone and iPod touch.”

In other words, think Amazon’s Kindle plus an iPod touch or iPhone and you’ll be on the right track. This dispassionate explanation was reiterated yesterday in a comment I made on a separate article; responding to a reader who said that “we have no clue what this thing will do,” I summed the tablet up as an “iPod touch/iPhone 3GS in HD + Kindle DX + new UI.” But despite the simplicity of the summary, there was something that felt emotionally wrong about that act of reduction—sort of like calling a motorcycle an expensive bicycle with an engine and more aggressive styling. I’ve had the same feeling every time I’ve read or said the words “big iPod touch” or “big iPhone,” as it leaves so much out of the picture.

When I was asked by friends and family to share my thoughts on the tablet this weekend, the key word I used was “transformative.” As I said almost a year ago, the power of an Apple device paired with an iTunes Book and Magazine store would be unbelievable, blowing Amazon’s Kindles away with “color magazines, books, web pages, and… iPhone apps,” while “planning for what printed publications should look like five years from now, not trying to replicate how they looked 20 or 200 years ago.” All of the evidence that has followed over the past year has confirmed this, most notably glimpses at next-generation magazine and newspaper interfaces from several publications, each either implying or stating outright that they’d been designed for an impending Apple tablet. Even in the absence of an officially announced product, Apple has inspired old media companies to start thinking forwards with a passion they’ve barely been able to muster for the past decade.

Here’s another example. In April of last year, food-focused author Michael Ruhlman released a book called Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. Ruhlman’s book states that accomplished chefs can skip written recipes by understanding the proportions of only several key ingredients to one another, making little tweaks to, say, the butter or the flour in a bread recipe to richen or soften the dough. Then, in December, Ruhlman released a $5 Ratio iPhone application that extended the book by including a number of recipe ratios and a calculator—complete with instant measuring unit conversions—so that cooks wouldn’t have to memorize the contents of the book in order to use it. One month later, Ruhlman improved the app’s calculator in an update. Rather than being conceived and sold separately, the next evolution of books will include these sorts of applications, obviously some more gimmicky than others, and the very experience of reading and learning will be evolved as a consequence.

This isn’t possible, obviously, in an old fashioned book. And it’s barely possible on the old fashioned book replicators such as Kindle that companies have been selling for the past few years. Because of their e-Ink screens and weak processors, Kindles and similar devices struggle to render five-year-old web pages properly; a multi-touch-equipped Apple tablet can provide color, interactivity, and an interface that transcends the web, pushes past PDF, and actually delivers new and legitimate value to consumers in the form of advanced rich media content.

People have postulated how this device will actually be used and sold, and at this point, the primary thing we’re concerned about is Apple’s pricing. (Let’s put the necessary Revision A discussion aside for the time being.) Apple has a history of launching base model first-generation devices with too little capacity, too high of a price, and some other random issue that turns away half or three-quarters of the potential early adopter market. This happens so often that we’re becoming convinced that it’s a deliberate strategy to either skim the market or limit demand for a product that the company knows it can’t yet produce in sufficient quantities to sate larger crowds. Assuming that it actually wants to stunt early adoption rather than roaring out of the gates, starting with a $699 or $799 price tag would be just the way to do it. At $399 or $499—without a required cell phone contract—these things go mainstream in a huge way. A price tag higher than $799 is all but inconceivable, and our gut tells us that Apple has been struggling with the right initial price tag for this device for months now, probably longer.

Why? Because it is and has been obvious exactly what Apple is hoping to accomplish with this device: yes, it’s pursuing magazines, but it’s also going after book publishers and more importantly educational book publishers—companies that have the power to transform heavy backpacks and lockers full of textbooks into digital versions that can live inside a device roughly as thick as an iPhone. The potential of this tablet goes well past iTunes U, and is effectively a play for the eyeballs and hearts of students and teachers everywhere. Imagine signing up for a college class and having your textbooks purchased with one click of a Buy Now button rather than a trip to a bookstore. Find a mistake in your textbook and an updated version could conceivably be available for free download the next day. At the right price point, an Apple tablet becomes a tool that every student carries, connects up to her or his full-fledged computer at night, and depends upon. More than an iPhone or iPod, yet quite possibly at the same time.

But at the wrong price point—one that even Apple knows is too high, like $700—it has to start making credulity-straining, amorphous “do we really need that” marketing claims like the ones that hurt the Apple TV. We’ve already seen some trial balloons floating around, one suggesting that the device is intended to be an entire family’s pass-around Internet device, a super-expensive but cool game console, or some other appliance of the future that will unquestionably have all the typical Apple skeptics rolling on the floor with laughter. Assuming that this happens, their predictions of failure won’t acknowledge the reality that virtually every first-generation Apple device comes into its own only a year or two after initial release, typically after the initial luxury pricing drops and a second version arrives to mostly fix the first version’s obvious shortcomings.

In any case, we’re truly excited to see how Apple presents the device to the world this week. A widely circulated report claims that Apple CEO Steve Jobs has been telling friends and associates that the tablet “will be the most important thing I’ve ever done,” and if the price and pitch are right, we definitely wouldn’t rule that out. Reducing the device conceptually to a Kindle-sized iPod touch or iPhone doesn’t capture the tremendous potential it has to transform the way we gather information and consume media. Hopefully, this editorial makes clear why we think it has a real shot at achieving that lofty goal.

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Comments

1

I think that tablet could be popular with older people that have held out using a computer.

Posted by roland on January 25, 2010 at 1:06 PM (PDT)

2

Great article Jeremy, and it brings up some good points. I have a hard time with some of the practical details of the device though, namely that it will be sold as a color Kindle with applications. While the App Store is throughly developed, the book and magazine store is not. Combine that with the fact that a large part of the target audience would likely be college students and travelers, and it’s hard to imagine it selling well, even at $399. College students don’t have the budget for an e-reader that may or may not have the books they need for class available, and travelers can pick up a magazine (that they can read during take off or landing) for $5. Who’s left?

I agree that, once the technology and software become more developed and publishers are on board and, more importantly, the price comes down, the Apple can be a game changer. But I feel that this release will not be the game changer that the iPhone was, turning cell phones into minature computers, and while it may change the e-reader market, it will take more time than the iPhone did to change the cell phone market.

Posted by Dave on January 25, 2010 at 1:09 PM (PDT)

3

This article has me extremely excited about this tablet!..I may have to buy it!

Posted by Shackire Anderson, Brandon Dixon on January 25, 2010 at 1:26 PM (PDT)

4

I find it hard to imagine that the price WON’T be $700 or higher.

Think about it: The lowest Macbook is $999 and the iPhone retails for $399. This is a *brand new* product to bridge that gap in a whole new way. I think the initial price will start at approx. $800 for the first gen but will eventually settle into the $600 range.

Posted by David Wilder on January 25, 2010 at 1:27 PM (PDT)

5

I am not getting the first generation of this. Jeremy is probably right about apples strategy for its devices. They will start at a hight price and go down. I just got a 650 dollar laptop. It took me months to save up for that kind of money. Apple will need to sell it for $399 for me to buy it One thing is for sure though. I will not ever buy this device if it has cell phone service you need to pay for. A kindle gets free service. This is the kind of thinking that goes on in peoples mind these days with the trashy economy.

Posted by weirdalguy360 on January 25, 2010 at 2:03 PM (PDT)

6

Price. It’s all about the price.

Posted by Luis Velazquez on January 25, 2010 at 2:08 PM (PDT)

7

Yup wierdalguy360 you hit the nail on the head.

Never buy the first generation of any Apple product - that has been my rule of thumb for the last 15 years.

Apple’s first generation products invariably have ‘issues’ the follow-ups are nearly always better value and (relatively) trouble free.

And if Mr Jobs even has the audacity to tie this product to AT&T I hope he gets heckled off the stage!

Trotskii (UK)

Posted by Trotskiii (UK) on January 25, 2010 at 3:32 PM (PDT)

8

Price is a very important factor considering the economy this country (and the world) is in! Who the heck can buy an overpriced Apple-version Kindle?!

Too bad Apple has a BAD reputation for creating LOUSY 1G items only to then charge MORE for the next generation items that fixes the problems in the 1G versions. Why couldn’t the fixes be in the 1G version considering all the research and money involved in the 1st place??

Also… it better NOT have a data plan but at least have Wifi and computer connectivity! If the device FORCES users to buy a Data plan, the device WILL FAIL!

Wondering what type of capacity it will have though (i.e. 32g or 64G flash cards)? Will it be expandable?

What are the specs of the device?

We’ll all find out later this week!

Posted by MrMojo on January 25, 2010 at 4:33 PM (PDT)

9

Imagine…. the accessories for the new iPad…. I would really hate to place a screen protector on this tablet device!

I could only wish I had this when I was in school. For all those countless times, hiking up a hill to class with 50 lbs. of books, laptop computer, and notebooks. With this device all of that can be eliminated with one tablet device, where all the books are in digital form, and the notebooks as well. Going to class would be so much more ideal with a small handbag only carrying the essentials: Dual Pen & Pencil, some writing paper, and the Apple tablet Device. We can only wish we had this when we were going to school.

You can do homework on it, and send it to the teacher, the teacher grades it on special app that receives homework and automatically grades it versus the answer sheet. You can get chat with the teacher from home, if you have any questions to a given assignment. This apple tablet is a huge game changing device that will revolutionize how we operate our complicated daily tasks into simple form of simple tasks.

Posted by Ryan on January 25, 2010 at 7:01 PM (PDT)

10

I am a generational Apple consumer from the Lisa to my MacBook Air. I have a I-Touch but use a Verizon blackberry, AT&T no, been there done that.  A mini I-Book would have been great but for travel I have opted for a Netbook as a lighter smaller alternative to the MacAir.  An I-pod shuffle goes in my gym bag and if you have to ask the point is lost.  A Kindle goes along when I am on extended travel, great battery life, form factor and easy on the eye’s.
A tablet sans keyboard is not something I can accept, typing accurately and comfortably is important to me but maybe the college set just does not want or need that. If I were king for a day I would have designed a 5 or 6 inch I-Touch to sell at $350.  Apple did not have a product to compete in either the Netbook or Kindle space and I gather the tablet is their answer.  I think we agree that price is important and if significantly more than $400 it will not be an easy sell.
I still wonder if a tablet will cannibalize other Apple products. Will those who own I-Phones add another subscriber service item to their household bill? I don’t think so. Will a tablet that is also a computer bite into other Apple PC sales?  In terms of design how sexy can a large hunk of display be and how will that compete against all the others who are just sitting in the wings ready to enter the fray.
At $350 to $370 apple could sell a lot but remember you can get a Kindle right now for about that and I suspect Amazon will not sit still.  As much as I like Apple, the need to buy Apple care is a fact and the premium for their products is hitting home. My recently University graduated sibling who had never used anything other than an Apple, now sports a Netbook.  Apple has generated a huge amount of hype but me I am still waiting for an updated version of my trusty 280C that docked directly into my Apple PC.

Posted by Geek on January 25, 2010 at 8:06 PM (PDT)

11

I remember hearing a lot of hype and speculation leading up to an Apple event but never like this. It’s gotten to the point that there are market forecasters discussing the potential sales volume for a device that hasn’t even been announced yet.

What are the odds that Apple is getting its April Fool’s prank in early and will only be releasing an updated iPod Touch with a camera?

Some predict that the device will fail if it requires a data plan or is tied to AT&T. By rights, AT&T’s 3G coverage and network congestion issues should make the iPhone one of the poorest-selling smartphones on the market, but according to Apple’s most recent numbers, iPhone sales are only climbing.

If this mystery product does live up to the hype, you can forget about any kind of reasonable pricing. Not from a company that charges $599 for a desktop sans keyboard, mouse and monitor.

Posted by Paul on January 25, 2010 at 8:12 PM (PDT)

12

Most of the posters on this thread suffer from a distinct lack of imagination. Let’s just see what Apple comes up with before declaring it DOA. The extreme buzz for this device reminds me of the months before the iPhone was released. Even back then, some analysts were already discussing how much the new iPhone could add to Apple’s bottom line—before there was even confirmation that it was real! Then, after it came out, Ballmer and the many who think like him predicted it’s demise. Hmmm. Last I checked the iPhone was outselling all of the WinMobile phones added together. So, let’s take a look at it with an open mind. Jobs has been right before about launching the Next Big Thing. And some didn’t even recognize it when it was presented to them on a silver platter.

Posted by Theodor Rebarber on January 25, 2010 at 9:59 PM (PDT)

13

Jeremy’s Tablet isn’t designed for replacing a Full Computer (Notebook or Desktop), it’s for complementing it.

Students would use it for Studying (and Annotating) Textbooks.

Technical trades would use it to access Bulletins and Procedural Texts.

Sales Consultants could use it for Product Brochures and Catalogues; a Quoting and Ordering system could be integrated.

Consumers would use it to access News and Articles; either by paid subscriptions or RSS. Books could be read without having to flip and fold pesky pages.

It would be for accessing and consuming information, with minimal creative ability.

Teachers/Lecturers would still use a Desktop (or Notebook) computer for Authoring Lectures and Presentations.

Engineers and Designers would author Technicians Guides and Product Catalogues on a Desktop (or Notebook) too.

Journalists and Authors would still use their trusty Notebook for expressing their observations and fantasies.

Product

Posted by Dan Woods on January 26, 2010 at 3:02 AM (PDT)

14

I have a home broadband monthly charge and an iPhone data [O2 Ireland]monthly charge - so there is no way on heaven or earth that my wife will allow a third data bill to land on our doorstep every month. So if there is a data plan or if there isn’t a way to tether my iPhone to the tablet I’m afraid I’ll have to get a divorce, and I don’t want to get a divorce. Steve, you better get it right this time ...

Posted by sprog on January 26, 2010 at 5:27 AM (PDT)

15

I am a student and if the device requires a data plan I will not be able to purchase it. I already pay a monthly bill for my iPhone 3GS and that’s about as much as I can afford. If the tablet’s to be popular among students, Apple must give us the option to use the Tablet only where wireless internet access is available. I have wireless internet access at my apartment and at college, so that should be perfect.

Posted by Luis on January 26, 2010 at 5:36 AM (PDT)

16

#11, this is all eerily reminiscent of the product “VIP” from the classic movie “Lover Come Back,” isn’t it?

Posted by Herr Doktor on January 26, 2010 at 7:42 AM (PDT)

17

How about a fully disclosed early adopted “tax”.  Price $700 for first month then will drop to $550.  Price it high enough to choke down demand to allow production and ATT tto ramp up. Noboby gets pissed off Tay paid more because they are choosing to pay extra to be one of the first. Could also give early adopters iTunes credits for books and non music purchases

Posted by Bill on January 26, 2010 at 9:18 AM (PDT)

18

$649-$699 initial price.

1st price drop/update to $549-$599 with early adopters receiving a $50 iTunes credit.

Wi-fi, bluetooth, tethering, data plans (including no-contract, pay-as-you-go) from most carriers.

This device could conceivably change the way virtually every corporation, small business, school, medical facility, media outlet and consumer gathers and disseminates information.

Just for starters.

Posted by ScooterD35 on January 26, 2010 at 10:36 AM (PDT)

19

Definitely waiting for the actual specs and features before I judge it, but one thing I feel the editorial missed on hammering is Apple’s penchant for style at the cost of functionality. This thing is never going to become somebody’s digitized bag of text books if it doesn’t come with battery life heretofore unheard of for an Apple product. As a student, I can’t be having my book crap out on me or being tethered to an outlet for charging. This may be flashier than the kindle, but if it’s not more practical, oh well.

Posted by Code Monkey in Midstate New York on January 26, 2010 at 4:32 PM (PDT)

20

To (backhandedly) criticize the Kindle for using eInk is to miss the point. Without it’s eInk screen, the Kindle would merely be a PDA with a screen big enough to read eBooks on. We can already read eBooks in colour on a netbook. So is this a netbook with multi-touch and no keyboard? The other features such as Internet browsing will be handy, but for me eBooks are not about content, but presentation - and for that, full colour eInk will be the way to go, not iPhone-style screens.

Posted by Paul on January 27, 2010 at 8:37 AM (PDT)

21

Yeah, I’ve already heard all I needed to hear: Apple’s claiming a whopping 10 hours of battery life for this thing - add in the standard disclaimer of things like video using considerably more - and you’ve got a piece of junk in my book. I’ll be waiting on a color e-ink reader before I spend money on replacing my bookshelves with an electronic gadget, not this crippled netbook (how anyone, even Steve Jobs, can say with a straight face that running a modified iPhone OS, with all the intentional hamstringing from the Apple gateway, is *better* than the full functionality of Windows XP or Win7 on a netbook is mindblowing to this reader). I supsect all I need to see now is the pricing to really get the guffaws going.

I am not impressed.

Posted by Code Monkey in Midstate New York on January 27, 2010 at 11:48 AM (PDT)

22

The guffaws are going. Like all Apple products, I’m sure it’s going to sell a boat load and make millions, but I actually find the 3G shuffle brilliant next to this thing. It’s nothing more than an overgrown iPod touch but with half the battery life, twice the price, and none of the convenience of fitting in your pocket. I think Steve’s illness has addled his brain if he honestly believes this is the “most important thing” he’s done.

Posted by Code Monkey in Midstate New York on January 27, 2010 at 12:44 PM (PDT)

23

HUGE FAIL.

Seriously disappointing product.  I really wanted to want this device, but I feel like the lack of camera and multitasking is insanely underwhelming.  Books is no breakthrough, there are already a million ebook readers in the app store.  And that ridiculous digital wood book shelf is so asinine. I can not emphasize enough what a horrible and horrifying design faux pas that is.  It is remarkable that it would come from Apple.  The design interface of an actual book self, wherein you just read through titles on the spine is so much more natural and is already like a computer interface.  Having books lain out so you can see their cover all the time is a pointless way to show off how much you love your faux wood virtual book shelf and cover art. Absolutely horrifying design ERROR.

And so f***ing expensive!  In the long run I’m glad that Apple screwed this up, defiantly helps to break my pointless brand loyalty and choose better products.

Posted by RYAN O on January 27, 2010 at 3:15 PM (PDT)

24

I agree with most of the comments about the iPad. it is not what I would call a groundbreaking product, but then I said that about the iPod…

wink

Trotskiii (UK)

Posted by Trotskiii (UK) on February 1, 2010 at 5:27 AM (PDT)

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