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Sanity Amid the Tablet Hype

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As January 26th, the rumored date for Apple’s rumored tablet unveiling draws near, the hype and anti-hype keeps getting more and more over the top:

Five Ways Apple’s Tablet May Change the World

The world doesn’t need an Apple tablet, or any other

and the inevitable

3 Reasons A Microsoft-HP Tablet PC Would Trump Apple

If you want to keep up to date on the rumors, Gizmodo has a regularly updated run-down here.

There are a couple of places that have more informed speculation and insightful commentary – I’d recommend these three in particular:

Antacid Tablet by ars technica’s John Siracusa:

… There’s also the popular notion that Apple has to do something entirely new or totally amazing in order for the tablet to succeed. After all, tablets have been tried before, with dismal results. It seems absurd to some people that Apple can succeed simply by using existing technologies and software techniques in the right combination. And yet that’s exactly what Apple has done with all of its most recent hit products—and what I predict Apple will do with the tablet. …

So how will an Apple tablet distinguish itself without any headline technological marvels? It’ll do so by leveraging all of Apple’s strategic strengths. Now you’re expecting me to say something about tight hardware/software integration, user experience, or “design,” but I’m talking about even more obvious factors:

• Customers – Apple has over 100 million credit-card-bearing customer accounts thanks to the success of iTunes.
• Developers – Over 125,000 developers have put over 100,000 iPhone OS applications up for sale on the App Store. Then there are the Mac OS X developers (though of course there’s some overlap). Apple’s got developers ready and able to come at the tablet from both directions.
• Relationships – Apple has lucrative and successful relationships with the most important content owners in the music and movie businesses.

These are Apple’s most important assets when it comes to the tablet, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Apple will lean heavily on them. This, combined with Apple’s traditional strength in design and user experience, is what will distinguish Apple’s tablet in the market. It will provide an easy way for people to find, purchase, and consume all kinds of media and applications right from the device. It’s that simple.

Thoughts on what an Apple tablet should be – or not by Andy Ihnatko

Apple always asks themselves simple and stupid questions like “How will this device be used?” and “Will this be used by human beings with, I mean, arms and hands and fingers?” and stuff like that.

The iPhone UI isn’t a desktop user interface where a pen takes the place of a mouse … which is the model that previous smartphones followed. It was designed to be held in one hand and tapped with your thumb. Occasionally you’d use the index finger of the right hand to key things in.

You want to try to figure out the UI of the RAT? Go get yourself a comic book, or any other rectangle that measures roughly 10” on the diagonal. Hold it as though you’re reading what’s on the surface.

You see the problem? Your fingers get in the way. Think about how big that surface is, too. That’s a lot of acreage to scan, looking for the right buttons to push.

While you’ve got it in your hands, imagine that it’s a sheet of thin steel. That’s heavy, isn’t it? Hard to hold up for long periods of time.

Think about how a user interface would have to incorporate those observations. Now imagine that you’ve been doing this experiment for four years and not four minutes.

That’s a very long list of observations. If you didn’t come up with a workable solution, don’t worry: I think Apple has.

and

The Tablet by Daring Fireball’s John Gruber.

… The way Apple made one device [the iPhone] that did a credible job of all these widely-varying features was by making it a general-purpose computer with minimal specificity in the hardware and maximal specificity in the software. And, now, through the App Store and third-party developers, it does much more: serving as everything from a game player to a medical device.

Do I think The Tablet is an e-reader? A video player? A web browser? A document viewer? It’s not a matter of or but rather and. I say it is all of these things. It’s a computer.

And so in answer to my central question, regarding why buy The Tablet if you already have an iPhone and a MacBook, my best guess is that ultimately, The Tablet is something you’ll buy instead of a MacBook.

Gruber’s a bit more gung ho than Ihnatko or Siracusa, but they both make a pretty compelling case that something very interesting is about to happen over the next year.

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