New Tablet Details: Twin Dock Connectors, a Big Antenna Panel, and Pricing Q’s | iLounge Backstage

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New Tablet Details: Twin Dock Connectors, a Big Antenna Panel, and Pricing Q’s

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge
Published: Thursday, January 21, 2010
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So yesterday, I promised on Twitter that there would be a tablet-related update today. Here are a couple of late-breaking, interesting details that we’ve had double-confirmed by sources.

(a) Double Dock Connectors. We’re hearing that the tablet is going to have one on the vertical bottom edge and one on the horizontal bottom edge, enabling this device for the first time to be both mounted and charged either in portrait or landscape mode. iPhone and iPod touch users have long had to deal with the unusual sight of a cable or hard-mounted connector sticking out of the side of their devices when it’s being used as a widescreen video or game player, and accessory companies have struggled for the past three years to figure out ways to accommodate Cover Flow and the like in their speakers and docks. Two Dock Connectors fixes this, and depending on how Apple handles multiple accessory connections, could have some other nice benefits, as well.

(b) Antennas. The various reports of the tablet’s iPhone-ish-ness continue with the antenna compartment, which like the original iPhone has a long rear stripe for wireless radio broadcasting. This is necessary due to the metal used in the rest of the shell, which would inhibit radio performance, and the size of the stripe—not an iPod touch-sized pill—suggests room for nice-sized antennas, and 802.11n compatibility.

Obviously, nothing’s 100% certain here, but these details come from highly reliable sources.

The other interesting topic of discussion around here: pricing. I need to make clear that none of what follows comes from external sources—it’s purely our internal discussion and speculation—but it’s seriously worth thinking about in the lead-up to next week’s announcement.

It’s an absolute certainty that the tablet (or, uh, iPad) is going to have Wi-Fi functionality, and every piece of information we’ve had for many months has suggested that cellular service will be offered optionally to enable it to access the Internet when you’re not near an 802.11 hotspot. This naturally raises three related questions: “subsidy,” “type of data service,” and “service fees.”

(1) Subsidy. If one carrier, or two carriers, were to get rights to offer the tablet with multi-year data service contracts, they would likely cut the up-front price of the tablet in exchange for ongoing monthly revenues. The typical subsidies these days are in the $350-$400 range for a 2-year contract, such that an unlocked iPhone 3GS would sell for $599 and an AT&T locked one would sell for $199. A similar slice would apply, presumptively, to a tablet.

(2) Type of Data Service. We’ve heard theories that Apple will, matching Amazon’s Kindle approach, offer free coast-to-coast data services for the tablet. But that doesn’t really make a lot of sense when you think about it. Kindle and similar devices barely touch their data networks by comparison with data-hungry iPhones, which gobble plenty of data from the web and other types of apps. Might Apple’s partners offer a limited level of free service—basically sub-10MB iTunes Store and App Store downloads, so you can grab books, music, and the like in the same sort of way that Kindles work—with data plans for those who want full web access? Or will there be no such free offering: buy cellular data or use Wi-Fi, that’s it? And will voice minutes be offered at all for this device?

(3) Service Fees. Obviously, the fees will vary depending on what the cell companies are actually offering, but it’s worth noting that AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon are all in generally the same ballpark right now in offering data service packages for netbooks—the easiest analog to the tablet in terms of data hungriness. T-Mobile offers 200MB of data for $30 per month, with AT&T charging $35 for the same 200MB, and Verizon $40 as a base price for 250MB. All three companies offer 5GB of data for $60 per month, with T-Mobile also offering a less expensive $40 unlimited plan for certain devices.

Is anyone going to actually be willing to cough up $30-$60 per month for cellular access on a tablet? Our guess is that this would be a hard sell, particularly for the earliest wave of Apple tablet adopters—people who already likely have iPhone service contracts that would suddenly go way, way up in price for the tablet. This reality might well compel prospective service providers to offer more aggressive service pricing, or better yet, a combined iPhone and tablet service pricing plan.

Strictly speaking, there’s no reason that tablet and iPhone users should have to pay anything above the cost of their existing iPhone service contracts if they buy an unsubsidized device: the iPhone is capable of tethering, and in every country with tethering support (say, Canada) can connect to a Mac or PC via cable or Bluetooth to provide data access. Making the same connections between an iPhone and a tablet would be a no brainer. Interestingly, you wouldn’t even need an “unlimited” data plan to be comfortable doing this: the iLounge editor who tethers the most—Jesse in Canada—has used a whopping total of 8GB of data in one year between his iPhone and tethered MacBook without trying to limit himself in any way. He pays for 6GB of data per month and actually uses less than 1GB per month with tethering on the road. Obviously, the numbers would vary from person to person, but most people would be well under his usage numbers, and harder core video and audio streamers might easily go above it.

Even though an iPhone-tethered data solution would work for millions of potential tablet buyers, we’d be shocked if AT&T wouldn’t salivate over another opportunity to charge customers a $36 activation fee and additional monthly service fees, “necessary” of course because of the additional strains tablet access would place on its fragile infrastructure. That way, it could finally have enough cash on hand to make its network reliable. Right? Right?

Feel free as always to discuss and debate the possibilities in the comments section below.

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Comments

1

The iPhone tethering idea makes the most sense to me.  My fear is taht AT&T or any other provider will be charging per tablet for data access without any hope of a combined plan with your current phone.  The prices for mobile data are completely ludicrous for the amount you are allowed.

Posted by Adam on January 21, 2010 at 12:53 PM (PDT)

2

I’m really interested in the new tablet, but I’m not interested in yet another data service plan.  If I could tether it to my iPhone without additional charges, I would be a happy camper.

Posted by Dyvim on January 21, 2010 at 2:29 PM (PDT)

3

that is another reason why Apple should join the data trend so it wont have to depend on other carriers

Posted by dean on January 21, 2010 at 3:53 PM (PDT)

4

Suppose it’s based around tethering. Either iPhone or MiFi-like device. That way, if you just want wi-fi, that’s what’s built-in and no extra radios to pay for. If you want casual data, then tether with your existing phone, possibly having to add that to your plan. Then for more serious data use, pair it with a Mi-Fi device with it’s own data plan. Also, no 3G radios in the tablet becoming obsolete here soon.

Posted by Ryan Gray on January 21, 2010 at 5:40 PM (PDT)

5

The subsidy example is based on a phone, where AT&T gets about $50/month in addition to $30/month (or more for texting), so there is enough margin to subsidize it.  If this is a data device only, and one that is going to be a bigger bandwidth hog than the iPhone, $350 to $400 would be unlikely.  Maybe $200, which is what you see for netbooks.

Also, this is a different device… closer to a large iPod touch than an iPhone.  You aren’t going to make phone calls on it.  Everyone who has one will have a phone… likely an iPhone.  And with a larger size, with more room for storage, it could satisfy many functions without any network, making the spottiness of Wi-Fi less of a concern.

Posted by Todd Bernhard on January 21, 2010 at 7:31 PM (PDT)

6

Dual dock connectors would look ugly and feel wrong, whichever way you hold such a device. Apple would want to make their tablet comfortable to hold and feeling the dock connector would take away from that. I know it is a seemingly irrelevant concern but you have to have raised expectations for Apple’s industrial design, especially for a new product that could be revolutionary.

Posted by Sol on January 22, 2010 at 12:05 AM (PDT)

7

The way I see it.. if there is a sim slot in the tablet, and a bluetooth stereo headset that doesn’t make you look like a complete dork.. who needs a phone anyway?
For the amount of voice and text I actually use, the fact that i’d have to have a headset on, wouldn’t be an issue.. or perhaps a way of using the iphone as a clone device of the tablet.. similar to a hands free kit? so that you could dial from the tablet screen but the iphone would make the call?

Assuming that the device gets announced, then this really will change the way people use computers.. in the same way that the iPhone altered the phone market. 

As for a wish list item.. I’m one of those who would like a stylus.. mainly because I would like to use the tablet, at least in part, for drawing and design work. This would be infinitely easier with a stylus as long as it is pressure sensitive..

Posted by Danny Boy on January 22, 2010 at 2:21 AM (PDT)

8

Dual connectors sounds like example what an engineering team would do with a prototype, so it can be evaluated for best placement. I’m pretty sure a final product would only have a single one.

Why would Apple not do a “kindle” and offer free 3G for iTunes store “only”. Then the equivalent of an in-app purchase to buy “internet 3g”  with monthly and yearly plans. Maximum flexibility.

Posted by Rick on January 22, 2010 at 6:33 AM (PDT)

9

i would be disappointed with yet another data plan. I want the tablet, but if it means another data plan then forget it. I dont care if it only costs $15 more a month! To be locked in even more with a carrier is just not something i would be looking forward to. especially with all the complaints about AT&T service of late. Even if it were to be offered on Verizon it would mean another bill to pay and if I wanted to opt out ahead of time, Verizon (or even AT&T) would charge $400 or more to cancel. Please Apple do not link this to a carrier!  I feel like every time i turn i around some one is offering a new “plan”. Is apples new motto going to be “There’s a Plan for that.”

Posted by carrier on January 22, 2010 at 7:48 AM (PDT)

10

The dual dock connector sounds rather dubious to me. Historically, Apple prefers to make the decision for the consumer, with third-party companies providing some alternatives. I think it is more realistic to see an iPhone/touch-like bottom connector. A second connector would ruin the device’s industrial design and I’m sure companies like Griffin and Belkin will have horizontal-style docks on the market fairly quickly for those consumers who really want them.

Regarding data, I think the device would have to offer some Kindle-like low data usage through cellular, if only to be able to offer instant subscriber access to newspapers, books, and magazines, regardless of how else Apple works out the bandwidth-hogging aspects of the device.

Frankly, I’m not sure how I would reconcile offering 3G data on the device. I think asking consumers to subscribe to another whole data plan along with their existing wireless plans is a no-go. A bundling option might be more acceptable, like existing cell phone customers might pay an extra fee, like say $10, on top of their existing data plans, could be palatable.

What might be interesting is if the device could also function like Verizon’s Mi-Fi. Perhaps that might get people interested in paying more for data? Verizon already offers a standalone Mi-Fi and the capability is supposed to be offered in its version of the Palm Pre (but at an extra fee).

Of course, the device’s pricing will be a major factor. Will it be $700 with data costing extra, or will AT&T or Verizon be able to offer a subsidized version that’s say, $400, with a two-year data contract?

I can’t think of a precedent in terms of pricing and data for such a device, so I’m curious to see what Apple and its partners come up with.

Posted by cxc273 on January 22, 2010 at 9:58 AM (PDT)

11

Personally, I’m hoping for a Wi-Fi only model.  I have to drive 100 miles to the closest AT&T 3G coverage, and I’m not looking forward to paying $150+ a month to verizon for less coverage than I have now. 

As far as the dual dock connecters, I highly doubt that.  I don’t see (or Apple seeing) any problem with having a cable sticking out the side of a product.  Apple has consistently made big steps towards less mess.  I’m running a 13” MacBook Pro on the newest cinema display: one cable to the ‘book, one for the keyboard, and one for my favorite trackball mouse.

Posted by Dick on January 22, 2010 at 8:05 PM (PDT)

12

I have a feeling there will be two announcements on Wednesday (well, maybe only one, if there is no so-called Tablet to unveil).

Failing a knock-it-out-of-the-ballpark announcement, I expect the MacBook Air to be dramatically redesigned (it would be its 2nd anniversary, after all), with larger SSD (256 gb), more memory, 2 USB slots, SD slot, and touch-screen capabilities that uses the same techology on the so-called Tablet.  This will be for those of us who still want a keyboard attached to our computer.  Once again, a computer for the rest of us ... who don’t need AT&T, Verizon, to survive in an Apple world.

Posted by JonnyOneNote on January 24, 2010 at 7:45 PM (PDT)

13

Am I missing something here? I see a lot of people talking about avoiding this product if it is tied to a wireless carrier. If I am not mistaken, you can even buy an iPhone without getting it on an AT&T contract. You just have to pay full retail and not be subsidized. Why would this not also hold true for an Apple tablet? Just pay full price and hop from Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi. There. Problem solved. I can not see locking myself into some 3G contract just to have this (possibly) very useful device. If it lives up to the hype, I will just pay retail and enjoy it as a much more mobile laptop/netbook type device.

Posted by Mitch on January 25, 2010 at 5:50 AM (PDT)

14

At whom is the iTablet being marketed too? Is it to the person who can’t afford a laptop? or someone who may use a tablet in their business?

Emac, video iPod, and iPhone 3Gs owner.

Posted by lknowlen on January 25, 2010 at 3:41 PM (PDT)

15

I’m getting kinda sick of the iEverything names.  From the image on the invite, I’d love to see it called the Apple Canvas.  That sounds natural and fits.  iTablet, iPad, iWhatever the rumors are calling it sound boring and predictable.  As far as it’s usefullness to be, it’s extremely limited.  I have a 17” MBP and I’m a film editor.  The tablet would be smaller and I got the 17” because I wanted it and I would never try to run Final Cut or any of my other video apps on a tablet.  Class would be the only place I could see myself using it, and those will end mid-May.

-Brian

Posted by brianbobcat on January 25, 2010 at 11:11 PM (PDT)

16

BTW, why did I need to come to Firefox to post this whereas in Safari I always get an error saying “We apologize. We cannot accept your comment at this time.”?  Any ideas?

-Brian

Posted by br on January 25, 2010 at 11:16 PM (PDT)

17

If I have two devices that both could use the Carrier (think AT&T and the others) to access the world, give us the ability to “bump” the devices together and transfer my account from one to the other. The tablet during the day, and back to my iPhone at night. I would pay another ten bucks a month for the capability.

Posted by jarodmoves on January 26, 2010 at 8:15 PM (PDT)

18

Just as a followup here, my apologies on (a). Our sources obviously had their wires crossed on the dual Dock Connector claim.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 27, 2010 at 5:15 PM (PDT)

19

I hope you take these sources off of the “highly reliable” list.  Obviously the information that they were given was purposely faked to keep them and iLounge in the dark.

Posted by Sam Diltson on January 28, 2010 at 12:47 PM (PDT)

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