iTablet – Time to think different again.

iTablet predictions by Matt Ulvila

As of late there’s been a ton of buzz around Apple’s forthcoming release of it’s tablet device. As with all things Apple, there are lots of fanboys singing its praises and lots of haters telling you how much it’s going to suck before it’s even revealed. Fanboys, haters and experts don’t really have any clue what Apple has in store for us more than I do. In fact there was a $100,000 bounty last week for leaked information. I wish I had some hard proof so I could get that bounty, but I don’t. What I do have is a passion for technology that I’ll mix with some logic, a little bit of evidence and a healthy dose of rumors (which seem to be a dime a dozen these days).

Let’s begin with CES 2010. Thanks to streaming, I watched Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer kick off the annual event. After a couple mishaps and many more bad jokes, he managed to show the world a rather uninspiring HP Slate Tablet. Have you seen any of the reviews? No wonder the haters think the iTablet’s gonna suck. Two of the biggest tech companies in the world just kicked off the largest tech expo in the world by showing you a computer that just happens to be be in a tablet form, running software built for every single PC in the world. Are you kidding me?

When it comes to tablets, Microsoft and HP don’t get it… yet.

For the most part, Microsoft is a software company, and HP is a hardware company. Microsoft writes software that “works” on any given computer, and always has to account for worst case scenarios from a hardware standpoint. Hey, have you ever seen Ballmer talk about how he wishes Microsoft devices did a better job communicating and syncing with each other? I did when he was asked the question by @joshuatopolsky on the Engadget show.

Before we go any further, STOP thinking about the iTablet as a PC. What sets Apple apart from other PC makers (other than the jeans and hoodie of course) is that Apple creates both the hardware and the operating system. That control allows Apple to work in a closed environment and because they have control, their devices have been created to interact and sync with each other. Creating hardware and software also allows Apple to control the user experience on every device. In my opinion, user experience has been the key to Apples success since the release of the iPod, and the experience of owning a iTablet is what I believe will set this device apart from its competitors. User experience will leave companies like Microsoft and HP scrambling to duplicate the iTablet experience.

What will the experience of owning a iTablet be like?

Well, there’s been speculation that it will primarily be used a media device. If you go by that assumption and then look at Apple’s current lineup, where does a tablet fit in without cannibalizing current model sales? The most logical place I can think of is in your living room. And it just so happens that the Apple Store has a brand new position this year called “Family Room Specialist”. I don’t think Apple is creating a new position to take care of the 13 people who own an AppleTV. Do you? Well, why do I need a tablet in my living room? Because you need a way to control Apple’s new user experience.

The tablet is just the first piece of this mystery device. It’s the method for interacting with something far greater. The second piece which I haven’t seen much speculation about is the base station that connects your iTablet to your television. I imagine it will be a device that’s a cross between an AppleTV and a TimeCapsule. Picture a docking station that includes HDMI and audio to and from your TV, but will also include a wireless router and large wireless hard drive. You know have yourself a way to connect yourself to your television. If you own the base station, you’ll be able to record shows similar to a Tivo, have a central hub that streams media wirelessly to ANY Apple device including your iPhone or Macbook.

Look for something way more than an e-book reader. I predict the iTablet will revolutionize the way you watch television. You’ll be able to interact in real time with live television shows. You’ll be able to chat with your friends and see what they’re watching. Talk about social, how about sharing comments with your friends or strangers as live TV happens. You’ll also be able to search for shows, or actors with the onscreen qwerty keyboard. You’ll also be able to review shows and share feedback with other viewers as you’re watching. Maybe there’s 3 different scenarios in a show, and you the audience gets to pick what happens. Think extremely enhanced television, that customized to the person who’s logged into the tablet/tv. Every person in the house will have a different experience. Targeted ads, different parental controls, recommendations based on your viewing habits.

2009 has seen a huge rise in casual gaming. Even my mother plays FarmVille. Expect that trend to continue to rise with the launch of Apple’s tablet device. You’ll eventually have access to ANY game that an app developer wants to scale to a larger size, and you’ll pay for them all using micro transactions at the Apple game store (similar to iTunes). I don’t have updated figures, but one article said there were 13,000 games for your iPhone last summer. These numbers are always changing and probably slightly off, but from what I could find today, there are roughly 558 PS3 games, 736 Xbox 360 games and 900 Wii Games. Apple could have a gaming device in your living room with 10,000 more games than all three of the major consoles. I’d also expect an experience similar to Xbox live as far as connectivity goes. Because these Apple devices communicate with each other, I imagine you could be playing poker with someone halfway across the world similar to how Bert Timmermans envisions it in his mock up by as early as this Spring.

And wouldn’t it be great to actually see who you’re playing poker against? Most of the rumors talk about the tablet containing a front facing camera. So, not only will you get to look at that guy from Belgium to see if he’s bluffing, you’ll be able to video conference him the next day to see how that app he’s making for you is going. Video conferencing will begin to take place more often and revolutionize the way we communicate with each other. There’s been talk for years about a front facing camera on a cellphone and with Apple buying up tons of 3.2 mega pixel sensors, I’d expect to see regular phone calls from my Verizon 4G iPhoneVideo to my Verizon Fios subsidized iTablet sooner than later.

And speaking of Verizon. There’s all these rumors flying around about a Verizon Apple deal in the works. I think it makes perfect sense. Verizon scoops up most of the 4G network. They’ve also started loosening the strings on their control of their phone’s operating systems (see Android and Palm Web OS). Why not put a Apple phone on Verizon’s network? Most importantly, Verizon provides high speed internet and cable, so they’re not taking a hit the way Comcast takes a hit when this tablet thing takes off. They’ll also be able to make some serious cash off those targeted ads I talked about a few paragraphs ago. So my question really is, why not sell an Apple Tablet in a Verizon store. Could we see subsidized iTablets with subscriptions to Verizon FIOS? I mean, why not? They were giving away small HDTV’s and Netbooks last year. If Verizon could get a deal such as a 2 year commitment to FIOS, a cut of any app purchases and targeted ad sales… Well, that sounds like a good plan to me. And I think after the debacle with AT&T getting exclusivity on the iPhone a few years ago, Verizon has learned it’s lesson and will play with nice with Apple this time around.

Will we see a tablet device that revolutionizes television as we know it next week? My guess is yes. I believe it’s far more likely than your run-of-the-mill e-book reader or oddly sized take everywhere tablet device. Besides, when you can get a Kindle at a fair price, why pay way more for an Apple device? Whatever Apple has in store for us on January 27th, 2010, expect it to change the way we live.

Below are just a few other ramblings and rumors that I think support my theory or will play a part in the tablet device. I’m even going to try to guess the specs for the device. Feel free to keep reading and geek out with me, or leave a comment and let me know what you think.

  1. Apple’s server farm in North Carolina. (Moving media to the cloud, probably a flash based tablet with 32-64gb of memory)
  2. Apple’s commitment to the Apple TV even though it hasn’t been popular. (They’ve cut their teeth, learned their lessons and iTablet will most likely be like an AppleTV 3 IMHO)
  3. The App store – Developers and users have embraced digital distribution. (It’s widely accepted world wide, and beats the heck out of shipping boxes full of physical media, then paying someone to sell it at the store you’re leasing. Digital distribution is scary efficient and cost effective)
  4. Speculated relationships with companies like the NY Times and book publishers. (These guys are no dummies, they want a cut of the action too)
  5. Apple’s purchase of Lala. (The backbone to their streaming music and video service. Could even team up with the NC Server farm to provide a service similar to OnLive for video games)
  6. Speculation of Apple and Verizon partnership. (Verizon owns FIOS and most of the 4G network)
  7. The position at the Apple store called “Family Room Specialist” (Makes sense if you have the ultimate family room device and I’m not talking AppleTV)
  8. Digital transition and availability of reasonably priced HDTVs. (Bigger, cheaper and possibly in 3D)
  9. 4G wireless and high speed internet at a low cost. (I don’t expect the tablet to leave your house much, but if your tablet does go with you on vacation, wouldn’t it be nice to watch all your content from home, on the road? Even pick up on that game of Madden you left off before you left?)
  10. Affordable flash memory. (Flash memory is like penny candy these days and only getting cheaper)
  11. Affordable LCD and OLED technology. (OLED still needs some time to come around, but could be used on in iTablet 2.0)
  12. A base install of iPhones. (You’re connected on the go by your iPhone and it makes a great second controller at parties)
  13. Apple’s acquisition of Quatto Wireless. (Targeted ads get better ROI. If some guy just searched for Audi 10 minutes ago, why not show that guy an Audi commercial?)

All along I believe Apple has had this idea, but they’ve needed all the chips to fall into place, and they’ve needed to master the technology to make it happen. In 2010 the iTablet will be the at home convergence device similar to how the iPhone combined your email, phone, music and photos back when it launched, but this time with your television.

Here’s a list of things Apple’s learned and perfected in the past 10 years.

  1. How to make a great user interface on their hardware and software. OS-X, iPhone, iPod and iTunes.
  2. How to make sync data between devices. MobileMe.
  3. How to make an intuitive touch screen device. iPhone/iPod Touch.
  4. How to make a thin computer. Mac Book Air.
  5. How to make a networked hard drive with built in wireless N router. Time capsule.
  6. How to make a media device that hooks to your TV. AppleTV.
  7. How to make a viable digital distribution environment. iTunes and AppStore.
  8. How to create a crave worthy device. They’re all pretty crave worth IMHO, but the buzz for the iPhone is definitely the biggest.
  9. How to team up with large corporations to sell an Apple device. AT&T here in the US and many others world wide.
  10. How to position themselves as a gaming platform. iPod Touch and iPhone.
  11. How to make video chat easy and reliable. Camera’s on all laptops and new monitors. iChat built in.

Just for laughs, I’m gonna even try to guess some basic specs for the device.

iTabletBaseStation-Back-Speculation

iTablet Dock/Base Station (The image above is just a render of what the back could look like)

  • 500mb, 1tb and 2tb options for hard drives
  • HDMI in and out
  • 7.1 surround sound
  • 802.11N wireless
  • Will also be the charger for the tablet when you’re not using it.

iTablet

  • 32 and 64gb flash hard drives. (no old school spinning hard drives)
  • 10.1 screen with 3.2 mp front facing camera
  • Core i3 (maybe) or Core2Dou processor at roughly 3ghz (probably their own processor PA Semi – this one’s a reach)
  • nvidia geforce 9400m
  • 802.11N Wireless
  • Bluetooth
  • Accelerometer
  • Compass
  • 3/4g wireless card
  • 12-15 hour battery life
  • unibody construction
  • as thin as an iPhone

If you’ve stuck with me this far, I’d love to hear what you think. Will the iTablet be just another tablet computer, or something much more? Will it connect to your TV, or am I crazy for thinking we’re at that point yet? What are your thoughts on this mystery device.

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hewlett-Packard

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_PlayStation_3_games

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Xbox_360_games

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