coding in the rain

By Andrew Carter

Apple Tablet Wishlist

All around the tech world, heavy speculation is underway as anticipation grows for the next thing from Apple at the end of January 2010. CES has come and gone. It seems to me Apple managed to overshadow the whole thing by simply saying they are launching something. Talk about influence.

So let’s assume there is a tablet coming. What does that mean? Why is it useful? Why would I want one?

I have a wishlist for such a device. Today, I use a MacBook Pro 15”, iPhone 3GS, a Sony Reader, a Sony Playstation 3, a Sony PSPgo, and a Dell Optiplex running Ubuntu Linux. That’s a lot of devices that do a lot of things. What could the tablet do that all those devices can’t?

What I Want

Replace Other Devices

To add another device like this, I want it to replace others. In particular, I’d want the tablet to replace a dedicated ebook reader (my Sony 505 in this case). I’d also want it to negate anything I’d want a netbook to do. I had a Dell Mini 9 for a couple months but found it too much of a compromise.

Don’t Replace Every Device

Conversely, I don’t want it to replace all my other devices. I have so many because they all do something well. The tablet should be no different. It should not aim to replace everything. It won’t replace my MacBook or my desktop machine. Not my phone either. And probably not my PSP. Unlike most people, I don’t find the iPhone that good for games and like dedicated game consoles.

ebooks

The biggest reason I would want a tablet is as an ebook reader. I’ve started to transition away from print this past year. It has now become very rare for me to buy technical books any other way than electronic. I’m also trying to buy other books as ebooks as well.

My Sony 505 is a nice piece of hardware. The form factor is much better than the Kindle in my opinion. However, the major problem is not the display or the controls. It’s the size. It can’t show a large form technical book like the O’Reilly or Pragmatic Programmer books I typically buy. It does support PDF but not very well.

The tablet for me would need a screen size that can easily scale a large format book with minimal loss of fidelity. I would also gladly move my magazine subscriptions to digital as well. I buy 95% of my music digitally. I still buy some Blu-Ray movies but I use Hulu or Netflix much more frequently. It only makes sense for the same reasons to move all my reading to digital.

iPod HD

The iPhone has a pretty good iPod embedded. I like it in most cases like commuting or traveling. But at home, I could easily see enjoying a larger format personal media device. My wife and I watch very different content in different ways. She watches shows recorded on our Tivo on a flat screen TV. I watch shows off my MacBook or PS3. A personal device that has high definition video support (and can stream it) would be great. I think online streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are required too.

The other exciting thing a table could offer is a return to albums for music. I’m old enough to remember getting vinyl records (then later cassettes and CD’s) and listening to the whole album while poring over the liner notes and lyrics. The new iTunes albums could flourish on the tablet.

WiFi

It goes without saying but the tablet must have full WiFi support. I think 802.11n has to be supported to enable it to stream HD reliably. Besides, Apple already sells a whole line of 802.11n wireless gear.

Extremely Sleek Form Factor

Apple are masters at creating amazing hardware designs. I’m confident the tablet won’t disappoint here. I think it needs to be about the thickness of the iPhone but much easier to grip and hold. It should follow the trend of the iPhone and have the bare minimum of hard buttons. I think the Kindle DX is a clear example of how not to do it.

Transparent Integration

Other than the ebook capabilities, I think enabling the tablet to seamlessly integrate with your other devices is what will set it apart. Some examples would be allowing it to function as an additional screen when you dock it with your MacBook. It should be perfectly sized to act as a status window or document viewer monitor. Other companies already sell dedicated monitors in the size that the tablet is rumored to be. Think about how cool it would be to have your MacBook hooked up to your 24” Cinema display and the tablet docked next to that. You could put your IM windows or a web page on it. Then when you are ready to leave, just pull the tablet and go.

Another integration possibility is to be the universal remote for the other entertainment devices in your home media center. Or how about hooking the tablet up via HDMI to your plasma TV and streaming Hulu and Netflix.

Yet another is for live events. You could be watching a soccer match on ESPN while a synchronized stream of stats and other data could be on the tablet. There are so many possibilities to using a device like this as an extender.

What I Don’t Want

Cellular 3G

I’ve got an iPhone (and everyone has some sort of mobile phone). The tablet will not fit in my pocket (if it does, it’s a failure). I would rather see it tether to the iPhone. Or carry a portable 3G WiFi bridge instead.

Keyboard/Mouse

There is absolutely no advantage to the tablet over a slim laptop if you start carrying around a keyboard or mouse. Integrate as an extender and have a touch screen keyboard.

Bigger iPhone

If the tablet is simply a large iPhone or iPod Touch, it’s doomed. The iPhone works because the UI is designed for the iPhone and only the iPhone. Tablet needs to do the same.

Smaller Mac

If the tablet is just a less capable MacBook, it is again doomed. That’s what Microsoft is building. And it is worthless. You can buy a cheaper netbook or a spend a little more for a real laptop.

So that’s my wishlist. No idea how accurate it is but I get excited thinking about this kind of device.

I’m a lifelong Apple fan. Apple literally defined the personal computer for me. My parents were completely unaware that the Apple IIc they bought for me in 1984 would shape the course of my life. I’m a programmer today because of that machine. So I do believe that Apple has the power to change everything. I can’t say for sure that the Apple tablet is going to be that kind of device but I won’t be the least bit surprised if it is.