Apple Tablet Rumors Persist: How Steve Jobs Immaculately Conceived A New Mac

When the new Apple tablet gets released, will you buy one?

TRICK QUESTION. Did I fool you? Did you already tab out to pre-order on Amazon? I did, and I was the one writing that sentence. Approximately one bajillion rumors are circulating around about Apple’s fabled foray into tablet PC territory, but so far there’s no solid proof. But, like Mulder, naturally I want to believe.

WTF is a tablet? Should I care?

A tablet computer is basically just a laptop without a top, usually coupled with a stylus or featuring a touchscreen. And touchscreen is the name of the game for Apple. I’ve still yet to use any kind of touch device worth a damn that didn’t feature a little piece of forbidden fruit with a bite out of it when you turned it over. You may hate tapping and swiping your way around, but Apple still rocks touchscreen technology. Why wouldn’t they make a tablet? If you consider the iPhone as a teensy little prototype, it makes perfect sense.

According to prophecy, and also CNN, a Mac tablet will completely obliterate the need for other gadgets. Combining the features of a MacBook, an iPhone, a Kindle and God, it will herald the end of days. Personally, I love thinking about the Armageddon, so I’ve got my head on straight here. And I’m just not sure the Apple tablet’s mesmerizing, impossibly beautiful screen will be the super glossy face of my maker.

This relates to how I really don’t get netbooks. Have you seen people in cafes with freakishly tiny little baby computers that look like they just got born? Those are usually netbooks. They’re meant to be extremely mobile laptops you can carry around to surf the web. And they generally have a data plan so you can be online almost anywhere, like with a smartphone. Netbooks don’t handle heavy lifting very well, so don’t try to do any fancy shit in Photoshop or open four programs at once to show off or anything. They will explode.

I imagine Apple would want to compete with netbooks, since the only thing like that in their lineup is the MacBook Air, which nobody seems to own. Probably because it’s stupid to pay more for less, even if it weighs negative 2 ounces. A tablet could make us forget all about the MacBook Air, and they already have it designed- just put the iPhone on steroids! Maybe give us some real word processing too, that’d be nice. If you’ve seen any images of the Mac tablet online, 1. They are fake (“artistic renderings” blah, blah) 2. They just look like overgrown iPhones- sweet! And 3. People will believe anything you make in Photoshop. Usually.

But where do I put it?

I’m almost sold. Really I just have one hangup. Well, it’s kind of a biggie, I guess: What the hell do I do with it? If I already use my laptop as a quasi-desktop computer (hooking it up to a big monitor, a mouse, a dock, etc. when I’m home) and as portable computer (I put it in my bag, I go places, I use it in those places) then where does the Apple tablet fit? Yeah, internet anywhere would be cool, but I’m too poor for that, unless they gave us some kind of combined data plan. And netbooks are underpowered enough so that I probably wouldn’t be able to play embarrassing games while opening eight thousand programs at once while posting YouTube videos of myself doing that in realtime. And that’s how I roll.

I mean, my iPhone does a lot of stuff. It’s a music player, game console (meh, not quite pleased with this so far), e-reader, GPS thinger and it lets me sext. I’m just not certain that there’s a technological niche between my iPhone and my MacBook for the Apple Tablet to desperately wedge itself into. The Apple tablet might be smallish, but it won’t fit in my pocket. That gives it no meaningful size advantage over my light 13” aluminum darling. And it’s less discreet, meaning I can’t openly use it in boring meetings or late at night on the train when I don’t feel like getting robbed.

Oh yeah- It doesn’t exist!

So we’ve established that the existing Mac menagerie already does most of the stuff that the tablet will do. Except we haven’t. Because the funny part is that the Apple tablet is still just an unconfirmed rumor. For all we know the Mac tablet might run Windows Vista and toast bread. Or maybe Apple execs are just too high on the smell of money to notice that we want one. We have no idea whatsoever. In the mean time, we have to speculate with as much conviction as we can muster as Apple plays it cool and watches us totally freak out over something they may not even be intending to manufacture. Either way, I think I can cope.

That doesn’t mean I won’t buy an Apple Tablet, were it to ever hop out of Steve Jobs’ head like Athena sprung from Zeus’s. It just means I need to figure out where it fits. Like when you get a new ottoman and you just aren’t sure where to put it or why you bought it when you were at that weird garage sale. Except that ottomans are really lame and boring and why would you want one when you could buy an Apple tablet?

Taylor has written 137 articles for us.

21 Comments

  1. they just dont know what to come up with anymore….but i would tottaly buy it…..its just human nature to want new things, like a new toy on christmas eve! i want it!!!

  2. The netbook exploding made me laugh, every time I see one I wonder…Why? If apple come out with a tablet it has to do more, a lot more, or it will fail and 10 years from now kids will look at Netbooks and laugh like we do now about 80’s hair styles.

  3. I LOVE my little PC netbook. I used to think “wtf?” but now I use it ALL THE TIME. So much so that I’m thinking that I might even sell my bigger laptop. PLUS it was only like $250. So, I think if Apple can figure out a way to break into that little-and-cheap market, that’d be great. It’d have to be cheap though. And Apple’s not so good at that part.

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  5. I think I’d have the same feelings about a tablet as I do about Google Wave. I already have things that allow me to do everything I need. A tablet/wave is filling a nonexistent gap. For me anyway.
    But I love Apple foreverX1000, so if they ever did come out with this product, I’m sure it would have some awesome features that would excite me.

  6. I love my netbook. It is awesome because it allows me to carry less. Yes I probably could write a long email on my iphone and I could instant message/skype/read rss feeds from my phone. However, it has 120 gig HD which is plenty for what I put on it ( ie lady gaga and bad gay movies) a 9 inch screen which is nice to watch the former on and it has a full keyboard even if it is a bit cramped. So if I want to write more of my bad scifi novel I can and not in notepad on my phone. The best part is I do not have to lug my macbook pro on the plane. it boots up fast (it runs win 7) Battery is 8 hours which is awesome I have the regular battery and the bigger one so maybe a combination of 12 hours of battery life. Which is much more than I can say for my primary computer.
    It is a toy for me because it is small, cute, convenient and ultraportable. It is blue my fav color.

    As for a tablet I think there is a market for it but it is the same market as the chumbly. An all in one thing in your home that you can read the paper on while you eat breakfast it can give you the news, weather, play music, make a grocery list and check your stocks. Kinda portable but I do not think it would replace the iphone. “3. People will believe anything you make in Photoshop. Usually.”
    totally true.

  7. I’m not sure I understand where this would fit. Of course, I think alot of us thought like that when smartphones first came out but in this case, we have a niche for almost every available size and shape. Smartphones for ultramobility; ultramobiles for a little bit more power; netbooks for more screen space but less features; mini-laptops for power, screen space; full size laptops for almost anything; desktops, servers, so on and so on. Yea, touchscreen technology is cool but in terms of ergonomics it doesn’t make sense. Typing on a tablet without a physical keyboard would be terrible, not to mention unsafe when driving or eating or any other activity.

    But, all that complaining, Apple thrives in saturated markets. I really can’t wait to see how they will push the field forward again.

  8. Awesome topic and nice post, Taylor. It’s got my wheels spinning! Apologies for the length of this post, but some predictions from the living room while my SQL code in MS Access (blech) cooks.

    First, I would bet both my kidneys that Apple has a 95% completed prototype for their tablet device. It is too late in the netbooks game and there’s been too much chatter for this to be untrue. The machine is probably beautiful, because Apple’s been p0wning the intersection of industrial design plus consumer electronics for the past decade.

    However, even though I think the MacTab is tangible, there is no way it will be introduced to the market until at least three of the following things happen.

    A) Someone else releases a minor hit tablet or netbook, probably for the business segment.

    Apple is great at building high-performing, elegant technology. But it’s not the specs that get the product sold – it’s the user experience. Ever since Jobs came back, Apple has been the master of “first following” to deliver the best possible (and best-selling) consumer functionality and UI, AFTER a new technology has gained some traction. I feel like the usual formula is “new platform is introduced > other company makes a lot of money tweaking said tech for a lucrative but boring customer segment > Apple figures out a way to convert into fun objects that make expensive nerdery seem accessible and yet terribly sexy…”

    For example, Rio and Samsung were much bigger in the MP3 player market until Apple was like, “Uh, we looked at what you have, and here’s how you can make it 10,000x better. You’re telling people to pay $179 in 2001 dollars for a machine that only holds 48 songs? Weak sauce.”

    Or more recently – Palm, Nokia, etc. were all in the smartphone game wayyy before Apple. RIM found the key market by tapping into business users. But even though it’s status-symbolic to shell out for a pocket computer and act all business-y and connected, it is so much more awesome to use that pocket computer for entertainment… I remember a couple of years ago before the iPhone was introduced and the only people our age with smartphones were my douchier friends (and ex-girlfriend) who got Blackberries for their investment banking jobs. They (and their buttoned-up managers) were all OBSESSED with the shitty Brickbreaker game that came with it and derived great happiness from the itty bit of joy it added to their long, bleak days.

    So, the iPhone brand team was all like, “OMG, so many people will totally rationalize this $$$$ purchase of our device by telling themselves that it’s so useful and serious and adult to have e-mail everywhere and the occasional ability to read emergency spreadsheet revisions in an airport. But really, they will buy our device because it can check facebook and load pictures of cuteoverload kittens from bed and play Ferrari racing games.

    Tablets are definitely being picked up across business now – one of the big things we’re working on at my current client is deploying tablets for their sales force. For better or worse, it’s looking *very* effective with the target audience (doctors) in our pilots. Apple has something up its sleeve to give the tablet a much cooler use than portable drug pitches though…

    B) Steve Jobs launches their killer value prop, probably based in the monetized cloud model.

    I would love to talk with you about “the Cloud” sometime, since my firm is ostensibly a big player and sometimes they pay me to make up words about it. In any case, the bottom line for Apple is that a couple of these clouds rain money, and they’re called iTunes & the App Store. The iPod and iPhone would be niche products, respectively, without these platforms.

    Over the past five years Apple has effectively transformed itself to become one of the most lucrative media distributors ever. It is all about taking content created by other people (bands or software developers) and funneling it through a kickass delivery system to paying customers. There are three products Apple sells, all of which generate revenue streams – 1) content, with payouts split between artist/creator and Apple 2) channel, which is distributed as free software but “buys” Apple a locked-in audience, and 3) device, which of course gets the tasty lump-sum discretionary expenditures.

    The trick is finding the right content to make the Apple channel and device really worth it for a customer. With tablets, there’s been a lot of chatter about books/print since the Kindle has done pretty decently and Condé Nast is dying. However, even though there’s an OK personal use market and large potential business market in portable document readers, I am pessimistic about our collective attention span and the general trend of reading.

    My bet is that the content monster is VIDEO. AppleTV hasn’t broken out of its niche, but in the meantime Netflix has on-demand as part of its subscription benefits and Hulu will probably start charging soon for shows. With YouTube, etc, the market is being primed so that people think of video as a medium that can and should be portable. Meanwhile, if there’s one thing that is totally disappointing on my iPhone but that doesn’t really need to be consumed via laptop, it’s my TV shows. Catching up with 30 Rock on the subway! NFL highlights on demand during lunch! It would be totally beautiful.

    C) Some massive things happen in wireless bandwidth technology, or at least AT&T gets cut and Verizon steps in.

    This major caveat for video has not been solved since the data is just so damn big – YouTube is still losing Google millions, last I heard. Beyond the server side, your point about the expensive data plan is salient. AT&T’s infrastructure already creaks under the weight of Manhattanites in Central Park texting each other on the first day of spring, so it would fall apart completely if a bunch of those people were trying to download the Victoria’s Secret fashion show while waiting for their laundry (inside shoutout to you and Chaps in case y’all ever read this).

    Word on the street is that Verizon was offered the iPhone contract first and the CEO passed because it would be a “niche product that would only move 10,000 units.” If Droid doesn’t meet expectations for regaining subscriber market share, they might be very conscious about not making the same mistake twice.

    Meanwhile, if the government ever finds any magical (non-inflated) money to reinvest in human capital and infrastructure like the stimulus should have, a grandaddy “5G” wireless network would be one natural sinker for the money. It would be awesome, but I think this is a long shot though given our public finances and the time it would take to get through the bureaucracy. Philly tried to make itself completely wireless when I was in school there, and very sadly, that endeavor crashed and burned.

    D) A competitive meteor strikes and MacBook and/or iPhone sales tank, or Apple finds the right group of suppliers to make this thing for under $200.

    Even if these killer items were already in place to drop the MacTab, there’s just no business reason whatsoever for Apple to release it now. It would cut into their sales of laptops for sure and iPhones quite possibly, which would be pretty dumb.

    Apple would have to respond to the threat if a competitor product (Droid? Windows 7? netbook? maybe even the Kindle?) struck a huge hit and stole Apple market share. Alternatively, Apple has been proactive about device conversion before. Even though the Zune failed to dent the iPod, Apple threw the iPhone out there after it figured out the perfect combination of cheap Asian supplies. Ostensibly, Apple has a 50% profit margin on the cost of components in an iPhone, which is effin’ crazy for the consumer electronics market.

  9. I think it’s possible that Apple started the rumor, and maybe even contributed to the “artistic renderings”. Why? This enables them to feel out response and troubleshoot based on doubts/concerns about the product. There’s nothing like skepticism to generate technology buzz.

    Personally, my main concern would be how well the tablet surface works for design purposes- because the possibilities here are awesome. Ability to truly calibrate touch sensitivity for line quality. Intuitive graphic design (painting for one). A program to make handwriting fonts effortless. But actually, I might take that last one back because I hate comic sans and I would probably hate the subsequent comic sins more.

    But in conclusion, I’d totally get one.

    And in regards to netbooks… is it just me, or are a majority of them pink?

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