For months, I have watched in disbelief at the hysteria over Apple’s rumored-to-be-upcoming tablet device without devoting a single article to it. It troubled me by how quickly unconfirmed reports could become concrete facts simply because they’ve been repeated enough. Even after all. My fellow. Betanews contributors…added their opinions unto the noise, I didn’t want to pollute the air with my grumblings.
But just after Christmas, Technologizer’s Harry McCracken wrote what became my favorite story about the Apple tablet, and it isn’t even about the tablet itself. It’s called “The Speculative Pre-History of the iPhone” and it shows how dozens of reporters drew dozens of different conclusions about the iPhone before it was released, yet they were all based on pretty much the same set of “facts.”
It reminded me of how puzzled I was when the iPhone was released, and how embarrassed I felt to have entertained some of the notions in those very articles McCracken cites.
The brutal truth is that no one in the media knows anything, and they’re just chasing the mother of all scoops. If you take what you know about Apple’s current hardware lineup, and glue that together with unconfirmed reports about movement in the supply chain, then pepper it with quotes from Steve Jobs or Phil Schiller, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get clicks. Heck, you might even end up being right about some things.
However, I’m still going to refrain from speculating (except for maybe one sentence at the end of this piece).
After watching the hype machine crank out the most overblown hypotheses about the iPhone, and now the Apple tablet, I’ve resigned to the fact that nobody knows a damn thing, and we’re going to be surprised at whatever Apple shows off, which still might not even be a tablet for all we know.
But we’ve seen an increase in the number of convertible notebooks and dedicated tablets this year, and the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show had plenty of examples of both on display. Devices formerly classed as Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) are funneling down into the mobile phone category, touchscreen mobile phones are getting into screen sizes above four inches, and touchscreen “slates” from big-league PC companies are expected to launch soon.
And an important point is sometimes missed about this: No one has clearly defined the place of a consumer touch-only tablet.
Microsoft spokesman Chris Flores chatted with me on the subject this week.
“Steve [Ballmer] may have only hinted at it,” Flores said. “But 2010 is going to be the year of the slate, so there are a lot of OEMs that are looking at different form factors, and trying to figure out the best use for the slate, and you’re going to see various OEMs take Windows 7 and tailor it to a keyboard-less, multitouch-based device.”
Despite saying we’re living in the year of the tablet, even Flores has reservations about the necessity of these devices.
“I could perhaps see sitting down on the couch and surfing the Web, but I can do that with my laptop today, and I have the benefit of a keyboard if I want, touch, if I want,” Flores mused. “If it’s priced right, I could see it taking off as a companion device. But is it my primary PC? I don’t think so.”
Even if it’s a device with as much processing power as a notebook?
“I do a lot of writing, and I need a tactile keyboard to bang out long pieces. Sure, I could touch out tiny, one paragraph blogs, but it’s anybody’s guess how consumers are going to use these, and what they’re going to use it for. Certainly your gadget-loving early adopters are going to gobble up all the first few tablets, and there’s going to be the religious wars over whose tablet is better…”My slate is bigger than your slate!’ and such.”
Sure, Windows 7 was launched tablet-ready, but there are plenty of other platforms out there, and a huge elephant in the room.
“I’m still waiting to see…everybody seems to be interested in one…but I’ve asked ten different people what they want to do with it, and I get ten different answers,” Flores said.
People expect that one tablet to look and behave a certain way based upon what they want to do with it, so imaginations have run wild.
Even though I think Apple’s particular entry into the tablet market would be driven by the needs of video game companies, the place of any tablet in the market is still fuzzy.
One thing is certain though. If an Apple Tablet comes out, we have proof that Windows did it first.