I am amazed by how rumors about the “Apple Tablet” continue to endure, particularly among high-profile members of tech journalism. Folks are getting paid to over-analyze job descriptions, argue about the price point of the device, and write press releases about their company’s future support for the device. This activity, by the way, is all centered around a product that Apple has never so much as hinted at existing.
The irritating thing about this unwarranted nerdlust is that the imaginary product in question doesn’t even appear to be useful. The general consensus of the imaginations of budding product designers and bloggers is something like an Elephantiasis-afflicted iPhone. The mythical tablet is thought to be completely touch driven, with few or no physical buttons.
Believers propose that this device could launch a cunning attack on both the netbook and e-book markets, pairing a near-desktop experience with a slim form factor. This suggestion betrays a fundamental lack of understanding about the appeal of both netbooks and e-books.
Netbooks are highly portable computers that come close to providing the full functionality of larger desktops. Netbooks live and die on two factors: Their battery life and their keyboard design. Elements like processing power and storage space are lesser considerations; they don’t factor into bread-and-butter tasks like web browsing and document creation. Keyboard design, however, plays a tremendous role.
A touchscreen-driven interface would simply be an unacceptable alternative to a physical keyboard. Users of portable devices may decry this supposition: they’ve been using touch-driven typing interfaces on their phones for years now! They’re right, many folks have adapted quite well to composing text messages and short emails on touchscreens. Have they, however, written full-length articles on their phones? What about spreadsheet creation? How about programming, with its proliferation of symbolism and punctuation?
Let’s talk about e-books. When it comes to hardware, three things matter in an e-book: size, readability, and battery life. The imagined tablet designs introduced thus far completely ignore the latter two factors. A backlit LCD screen cannot offer anything that comes close to the legibility and power efficiency of the e-ink display technology used in all e-book readers. They have been designed to replace ink-on-paper books and magazines, neither of which have ever had to concern themselves with display resolution or the time between battery charges. Only the most hardened of technophiles are able to read full novels on LCD screens, and it is likely at the cost of their future ocular prowess.
Is Apple developing this tablet with the hope of competing in these existing specialized markets? Are they hoping to create a new market entirely? Is the whole thing a product of tech media feeding off of itself in a tempest of speculation?
It doesn’t really matter. It’s a bad idea.