After attending CES earlier this month, it became clear that Apple’s iSlate tablet PC is going to come out about a year too early for the perfect match of technology and services. The good news is that will immediately be able to point us to the second generation of this product, but it also helps explain some of the rumors floating around about it. Let’s talk about the risks of this device, the hardware and features that we believe will be in it, and what the second generation device is likely to improve on this week as we speculate about the iSlate launch.
Before diving in, however, it’s worth pausing to note though that Apple is the one company that can present a device that isn’t yet perfect and have us all salivating over it. On the one hand, I wish more firms had this skill, but then on the other, if they did, we’d likely be broke most of the time moving from feeding frenzy to feeding frenzy. So I’m not suggesting the iSlate will suck – only that it will get better over time, and that this go around, we can likely anticipate some of just how it will do so. Here, I’m going to speculate on what the iSlate should be based on, what technology is ready to go, and the rumors that have surrounded the device. We’ll start with the device itself, mention the risks, then move on to the services, and close out by talking about the following generation.
Obviously the Apple iSlate will be thin, use a 10” screen, and be touch-enabled. Everything suggests an appearance like an iPhone, albeit with much more viewable screen area. It seems likely it will either be based on NVIDIA’s Tegra platform and/or on an ARM A9 derivative that has secretly been created inside of Apple. In either case it will be strong on graphics performance. Battery life will need to be at least 4 hours or it will get pounded in reviews and there should be a way to get it to the 10 hour ideal target for this class device.
The best display currently being manufactured in volume for the device is OLED, but these are really expensive at this size, suggesting that Apple may offer two versions of the device – one with OLED and one without. I’ve been told that Apple has locked up virtually all of the OLED displays and most all LCD displays in this size class. This could help explain the mixed rumors on price with some in the $1,000 range and some much lower. The OLED display could add up to $500 to the price – these screens aren’t cheap. Otherwise, it will have a full cell phone technology load and come with a data plan much like an iPhone does. It would seem likely, just as it was with the iPhone, that an iPod version could launch in the August/September timeframe.
Expect adapters that will allow it to work with some existing iPod/iPhone accessories and that a line of unique accessories will come up around it.
The risk Apple is taking is with the size of the device. Gizmos in the 10” spectrum have always fallen into a range of too big to carry and too small to work on. Netbooks have clearly helped validate this size, but even they seem to be drifting to 11” and larger display areas going forward. It might have been less risky to do a 5” or 7” widescreen model first, because they are much more portable and the OLED displays much less expensive. It is possible that Apple will announce a line of products because it is hard to imagine that the company doesn’t recognize the risk in this big a jump, and that the technology graveyard is full of products that have used 10” screens. Still, as the first 3rd generation reader, and I’m in love with my 11” Kindle, they may have alternatively hit on the ideal size for a slate that is also an eBook reader. We’ll see.