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Apple iPad or iSlate or or Steve’s Tablet, What will Apple Call its Media Tablet?

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

(editors note: The Apple iPad Tablet was announced on 1-27-10)
It’s an Apple iPad — no, it’s an iTablet — no, it’s an iSlate. Whatever Apple calls it, here it comes. Tablet computers and tablet computing, which has been revving up in the last few years, is about to get its figurehead. Apple is projected to unveil their new technology Jan. 27th. Steve Jobs may, however, simply step up to announce the new item and show it to the world; it may not be available for sale yet. Even so, once the Apple iSlate/iPad is available you can predict that stores will be emptied of it within days, as happened with the 3G iPhone.
SmartpeopleĀ® have been combing through Apple’s considerable stack of patent applications to see if they can anticipate which ideas will be utilized and made real on the new slate or tablet computer, since naturally all the patents must be already filed and safe before they put the product in front of public eyes. Not being one of the SmartpeopleĀ®, I have made my own predictions, below.

To help determine which ideas Apple will be using, you might think about what they want to achieve and make the iSlate do. The features they choose to include will be in the context of what devices you likely already have, whether you’re a devoted Apple user or one of the general public. Apple isn’t going to simply make a bigger iPhone, for instance. And they aren’t going to replicate the Tablet PC.

Writing Pad and Stylus

A “tablet” used to be a flat thing — of paper, unless you were Moses — that you wrote on with a pen. Apple’s word, “slate,” is also retro, suggesting a 19th-century student writing with chalk on a black slate. Both of these old items, the tablet and the slate, served us well through the ages. Suppose you took one and made it magic? To carry a slate that contains a computer is a pleasing thought that would make me feel like a sorcerer’s apprentice. Especially if it’s light enough to grab with one hand, tuck under your arm, and go. It’s rumored that Apple has registered the name “Magic Slate.” Excellent, if I may quote Mr. Burns.
For awhile now, computer companies have been trying to make that magic slate/tablet. Microsoft’s Tablet PC has a screen you use a touch-sensitive pen on, which seems cool until you think about how short a lifetime a heavily used screen like that is going to offer, getting scraped on all the time. The Tablet PC carries an adjusted version of their OS — XP Tablet — for the device. You can even load voice dictation software on it; and I’d like to make a note of that feature; that is nice. MacSpeech Dictate, anyone?

Yes, Virginia, There Will Be a iPad Involved

The thing about the iPad/iSlate that I can’t see clearly is how they’ll handle writing and drawing. A slate is meant to be used as such, but the toll that takes on a nice screen — this is difficult to surmount. If you’re sitting with your tablet computer taking a few notes, note-taking might be accomplished by writing on a small area of the screen, preserving the rest, but if you’re writing quite a bit of text you need a lot of room. And drawing certainly needs the entire screen area. Since I believe the Apple tablet will offer the ability to write and draw with a stylus, I’m going to assume they’ve come up with a really, really good screen. And I’ll also assume the writing features will have several alternatives. You may want, for instance, to handwrite notes and then save them. Your longhand notes, taken in a hurry at a work meeting or in a class, are likely to be in cursive and will not conform to a specific alphabet the device recognizes. So you should be able to save the notes simply as a series of images. (Which you could email immediately, etc.) If you happen to write shorthand, then you definitely must save your work as an image.
**Update: Since Wired.com has thoughtfully provided a look at the invitation Apple sent out for the Jan. 27 event, I am now confident their tablet will focus on drawing, writing, and… painting. This invitation is as colorful as ClarisWorks was on the original iMacs.

The Cuneiform Option

If you want to write and have the computer interpret it as text, then you’re asking for a second option. That should of course be included, but I don’t plan to use it much. I write messily and it is the only way I can write longhand. If we have to relearn an alphabet that the software can recognize in order to write on this slate, like we did years ago for the Palm, I’d just as soon have a clay tablet and write cuneiform.

But of course some people (youngsters) would like to have a secret script to use on this, just as they like to use numbers in their words instead of letters, and stuff like that.

Touchme-Feelme Screen

Like the iPhone, excellent touchscreen technology on the islate will be key. It eliminates the need for a mouse, stylus or keyboard. It’s cool. But it’s a delicate technology. Our ipods had to have special screen covers and we have to use sense when carrying them around. And many of us would far rather type, which is not easily done on a flat picture on glass of a keyboard. I need the keys. This is a given, that the slate will have a USB port for keyboard and even mouse.

Of Mice and Men

People should never assume the mouse is dying and about to disappear. To let it disappear would be going backward, not forward! The mouse, after all, is our Homer Simpson remote control: I know people who lie down, their arms at their sides, and holding the mouse in their hand, comfortably and lazily surf the internet, by moving the mouse around on the floor (if that’s what the person is lying on). They lift their eyes a mere few inches to gaze at their big screen display, which is placed perhaps on the nearby coffeetable. Or you can sit in your heated massage chair and run the mouse on the chair arm to surf, the screen upright on the table before you. You don’t have to reach your poor, tired arm out to touch the screen! (There will, of course, be a kickstand or dock to hold the iSlate up.) Let us be comfy, for heaven’s sake, and keep our mouses.

Apple is certain to give us some really neat shortcuts and new things, touch-wise. Drawing small circles or shapes to execute a function, for instance. Drawing your finger diagonally to do something else. They could be geared to make sense for specific applications. And some of the aforementioned SmartpeopleĀ® have said that Apple is instituting neat things like a wave of the hand to navigate. You don’t even have to touch the touchscreen. The inbuilt camera will facilitate this, they say.

Speaking of the camera, which is virtually certain to be included, I wish it could be on both the front and back, moveable; not just the back like Microsoft’s PC Tablet has. If not, then I’d like the camera on the front.

Other things we may want to do on the islate/ipad/imedia tablet:
1. download and read ebooks
2. surf internet
3. play movies, TV shows, other media
4. make calls
5. instant message/text
6. take still photos or video
7. edit photo & video
8. carry it around without plugging it in for a full day
9. connect it to a TV and play media
10. sync its media with a computer

Look at #6 in my list. I’m rather interested in that one. One of the uses of the tablet/slate computer has always been that it’s great to carry into a class or meeting and do stuff. Imagine creating a video presentation on your iPad/iSlate — propping it up o your work table, sitting down in front of it and recording an introduction, then taking your slate down to another location, filming (sorry, using the retro word) another bit of it, then going home and finishing it with a series of moving charts, graphs, and so on. Imagine taking your slate to the business conference room and playing it, perhaps hooking it up to a TV for a bigger screen for a group. Selfmade media has been one of the best things the computer industry has given us.

But if you like Kindle types of devices best, you may value most the ability to read books, or record text and notes as you write them, in a very, very portable device still big enough not to give you eyestrain, light enough to hold and tilt like a book. The Kindle’s popularity has surged, of late. Any voracious reader would be grateful for a similar non-glaring, paperlike screen.

Internet Service Providers

One of the biggest iPad/iSlate issues may be the internet connectibility and the question of monthly contracts to an ISP. If you already have an iPhone (or, for that matter, a Blackberry or other phone with broadband) are you very eager to sign up for another expensive carrier contract? Probably not. I look for Apple to have about 3 different connectivity options for the iPad/iSlate.

The first would be the iPhone type monthly contract, made more affordable because Apple grants one carrier all the business. This would be sensible for people intending to use it a great deal.

The second would be an option to plug in a 3G/4G broadband card which may come from any of several carriers, the same 3G broadband card you may have in your laptop.

Third, an option to have no internet contract at all, but Wi-Fi is built in and you can go online if you go somewhere providing connectivity. If you choose you can always go sign up for a contract.

Apple — The Infinite Loop of Quality

This is why we’re all queuing up to buy their stuff, yes? We expect that this will have a great look and feel, have excellent software and OS, long battery life. This device will outstrip the tablet PCs, some of which did very well on a PC format. Panasonic ToughBook had a good battery and great security features, as well as a camera. Pencept had good writing pad aspects. And then Dell, Gateway, and multiple other computer manufacturers came across with tablet computers which usually ran XP Tablet as their operating system but often disappointed, some looking simply like laptops that broke at the hinge. These had only middling popularity, but the fever for tablet computing had risen fast. The Kindle, then, made us crazy for tablets, since it was a unique answer to the same question, and our big brother, Apple, hadn’t even spoken his piece yet… and we were left waiting.

The Microsoft Courier is the one Apple will be pressed to beat. It is like an electronic journal plus web browsing. Very good for business meetings, or for solo work, in or out of the office. It has page/image capture, as well as text copy and save. You can share files with other Courier users by using the command “publish.” (This fileshare feature Apple users already have if they subscribe to a .Me account. And there are a host of other ways they can fileshare for free.) The Courier uses capacitive touchscreens, but you can use a stylus too. And there’s a camera on back. The whole thing is very student and/or workplace oriented. You can really get things done. It’s unusual, too, because it folds like a book and uses 2 screens, and you can drag things from one to the other. You can lift an image from a webpage on the right screen, “paperclip” it in the middle, while you bring up the journal page on the left where you want to file the paperclipped item. Then move it over.

The thing is, Microsoft seems to want to build its image as a dull work drone company. Dull but focused on the job; gets the work done! But to rely on this image is a big mistake when your rival has made such an effective spoof on it. John Hodgman and Justin Long are surely waiting to step out on our (Apple)TVs and have their little discussions on whether they are Macs or PCs all over again.

Apple can beat Microsoft easily if it makes its media work efficiently on the iPad/Slate. The iSight camera of the MacBook, the music and video player on the iPod, are already wonderful. We do have to get our work done but those things made it so much more enjoyable. We even made it part of our work. So just include those in the iSlate, please; hand me a stylus, and give me that thing. Sometime this century, Steve.

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