Apple fans finally have something new to imagine, lust over, and stock their bank accounts for. After mockups of a revolutionary new iPhone said to debut at WWDC turned out to be false when Apple unveiled the relatively tame iPhone 3G S, it didn’t take long for the rumor mill to spin up yet again with whispers of an upcoming Apple tablet.
We’ve taken in all the rumors, picked through the reputable leaks, and sprinkled in a handful of our own imaginative twists to concoct our own version of the fabled Apple tablet. Will many of these concepts manifest as a device that looks very much like what we’ve predicted? Quite possibly. Will we look back at it in six months and laugh? Also quite possibly. So sit back, get our take, and decide for yourself.
$800 price tag, 9.7-inch screen, out in October
You’ve probably seen these bare-bone stats repeated everywhere, but they all trace back to the same source: the Taiwanese paper InfoTimes, which published them in an article on July 13. How would a little-known paper most of us have never heard of get the scoop on one of tech’s best keep secrets? Suppliers. Apple may be sealed up in Cupertino like a black ops military base, but many newspapers based throughout Asia get scoops on upcoming products from leaks within the companies that actually produce the raw parts for them, which is precisely the case here. Traditionally, these types of sources are surprisingly reliable for netbook news, and all the pieces seem to fit. An $800 price tag is enough to account for the Apple tax (yet make it cheaper than the cheapest $999 MacBook), a 9.7-inch screen would exactly match the 9.7-inch Kindle DX, and an October announcement would leave just enough time for holiday sales.
Most of the world probably wouldn’t even know the meaning of “multi-touch” if it weren’t for the iPhone’s pinch-to-zoom capabilities, so it’s safe to say Apple is quite wedded to the technology. This time around, we expect Apple will focus on software to enable creative new uses for multi-fingered motions, similar to gestures (like using two fingers to scroll) on existing Macbooks. Imagining flicking objects across the screen, virtually picking them up with a quick two-fingered squeeze them depositing them elsewhere with the same gesture (for copy and paste, perhaps?), or diving deeper into a 3D interface by placing five fingers down then spreading them apart. The right software could enable could enable all sorts of crazy user-interface tricks – the kind Apple is famous for.
We know: Steve jobs famously denounced the stylus when he introduced the iPhone back at Macworld in 2007. But these things just make too much sense on a tablet not to include – at least as an option. Just imagine what Apple’s famously creative legions could do with a tablet that mimics a paintbrush on canvas, a ballpoint pen on a notepad, or a pencil on graph paper. The 9.7-inch screen effectively becomes whatever you want. The hardware already exists: Dell has already incorporated an electromagnetic digitizer – the same tech found in a Wacom graphics tablet – into its Latitude XT2 tablet. But it will take the folks at Apple to build the software that will get artists to put down their brushes and pens for a computer.
What will it look like?
Apple may be at the forefront of industrial design in the tech world, but the company has gotten pretty predictable, too. Dozens of Mac fans have already mocked up an Apple tablet based on previous Mac aesthetics, and they all pretty much look the same: screen, rounded-edge anodized aluminum chassis, and an absolute minimum of buttons. And as long as Steve Jobs’ heart is still beating, we’re placing out cash on exactly the same design.
Some folks speculate that an Apple tablet will run iPhone OS 3.0, effectively turning it into an overgrown iPhone. Which doesn’t really make any sense. An Apple tablet will have to run OS X to differentiate itself from its tinier cousin. A bigger, more powerful slate full of apps just won’t cut it when stacked against cheaper netbooks that run a real desktop operating system. That said, we wouldn’t be surprised to see iPhone apps run within OS X as widgets, which will allow the table to tap into the same touch-based software ecosystem that has made the iPhone a hit.
Tablet buyers will be iPhone owners, and iPhone owners are spoiled. They expect Internet access anywhere on their mobile devices. Rather than trying to sell them into a different contract – or adding a 3G modem into the tablet – we think Apple will come up with a seamless way to use the iPhone as a modem for the tablet. After all, owners of jailbroken iPhones can already tether as simply as creating an ad-hoc Wi-Fi network on a laptop and connecting the phone to it with the right app running. Apple can surely do it better. Because iPhone OS 3.0 has already opened the door for tethering, but AT&T doesn’t support it yet, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the carrier roll out its tethering plans in conjunction with the new tablet.
A Home-Grown CPU
Expecting an Intel Atom in the upcoming tablet, just like every other mobile machine made in the last year? Not so fast. Here’s another one from the rumor mill: Apple might not reach out to AMD or Intel for the chips to power the upcoming tablet, but to its own internal semiconductor design team. The Cupertino giant quietly acquired P.A. Semi over a year ago for $278 million, and VentureBeat claims that Apple has half the team working on new iPhone chips and half the team working on tablet PC chips. The Wall Street Journal reaffirms at least the iPhone half of that equation, and we wouldn’t put the other half out of the equation.