Can Apple save the Tablet?

by Chris Howard Aug 24, 2005

The uptake of the Tablet PC has not been to expectations. Roger Kay on Technology Pundits has a very good article on the failure of the Tablet PC - thus far. As he says:

Those early forecast curves were truly exponential, but you’d need some sort of rocket fuel to hit 14 million by 2007.

Can Apple do for Tablet computing what it did for mobile music?

Well, if I’m going to have any idea of the answer to that question, I’m going to have to put down my keyboard and pick up my pen…

From this point on I’m writing with a pen on a Wacom tablet. Can you spot the difference? You could if you saw this before l error corrected! Ink, formerly known as Inkwell does handwriting recognition reasonably well. As one who used a Palm for a few years - even to begin writing a novel - the Apple handwriting recognition is good, although less reliable than Palm’s Graffiti. It is a little awkward writing on the Wacom as you have to watch the screen, not the tablet - which would obviously not be an issue with a Tablet Mac. And you do need print, it doesn’t read script. There are a few symbols to learn such as new paragraph and space. You can do backspace, cut, copy, paste and more but I found editing much easier on a keyboard. And if you don’t dot your letter “i” they become capitalized - something I rarely do. Error correction isn’t easy - you can cross out words which then leaves a symbol, such as “#”. Again, I accept my mistakes and edit later on the keyboard.

One thing we know about Steve Jobs and Apple, they can revolutionize a market. When the iMac G4 came out, I dubbed it Applutionary. They do seem to create their own evolution and revolution. They it did with the Apple II, Mac, Newton, iPod and PowerBook. It won’t be long either before they do it with portable video. Looking at that list you wouldn’t really ask “Can they?” you’d assume they will. Bill’s probably even waiting for Apple to enter the market to ignite it.

Kay also asks, “But what is the killer app that’s going to drive the horizontal market?” He can’t find the answer to that and I can’t either. A “killer app” is one that produces broad mainstream take up, one that makes people switch.

Is there one? What more can we do with computers that we aren’t already, particularly a portable tablet computer. What application would make us say “My next computer has to be a tablet.”? What do we want it for? To fill out forms? Or do we want to do word processing in a more natural way, with a pen?

No, I think the question is more like, what will be the killer OS? Can Apple come in and show how it’s done and possibly even pick up market share? It’s the interface as I’m finding as I write this with pen, that will make or break tablets.

Having written some 300 words on a tablet, what do l think? The writing is fine, I probably have to learn to be a bit neater. But the editing? Give me a keyboard, please. Despite that, I still think Apple can make a decent Tablet Mac with better handwriting recognition and simplified editing. Dare I say, I’m even expecting an announcement at Apple Paris Expo - on September 20th - my birthday! How appropriate. I wonder if they’ll send me one?

As alluded above though, even if Apple make the best tablet computer can they win a tablet war? Can they become a dominant player, as they once were in laptops?  A little story to illustrate what I think…

Moses came to the people and the people saw that he carried two tablets. He spoke unto them: “The good lord Jobs and the dark lord Gates, have given me these two tablet computers. From this day forward, we will use them compute, to count our oxen and sheep, to do our tax returns, to write our letters to the editor.”

The people were in awe and came to look at these strange devices. They saw the Jobs one was white and bore the symbol of an apple and it looked good, and it was good. The people were happy. Then they looked at the one from Gates, it was black and bore the symbol of Hell - oh hang on - Dell, and they saw that it was butt ugly, it was more difficult to use, less reliable. The people were saddened by it. There was division though among the people - some liked the elegance and usability of the white one from lord Jobs. Others preferred the familiarity of the black one - for it ran Windows and they all knew Windows, to change would not easy for them.
Some bought and used the white one. And they were happy. Most though bought the black one for it ran the software they already owned. And they too were happy.

Well, happyish. They saw that their Apple counterparts were most satisfied and they grew envious. But the dark lord Gates came before them and told them he would smite the white enemy. And so he did and he made lots of money. And the people were happy with their black tablet computers, for they made excellent serving trays.

(If you’re a Windows zealot, you might want interchange the good and bad of Jobs and Gates in this story, but this is an Apple website, whaddya expect?!:))

600 words written by pen, and much editing with the keyboard, I’ve kinda lost my enthusiasm for a tablet Mac. One oddity I discovered with Ink, was it has a bad habit of adding double spaces between words. A search and replace found 320 occurrences. That’s more than 50% of the spaces between words. Just wait while I do a little test…. Ok. I just tested and found that it puts a double space in when my words are too close together. When I space them wide - even very wide, it only puts in one space. Go figure!

So, can Apple do it?
Kay says:

Most people I know who have bravely carried a tablet about, proclaiming that it’s the wave of the future, have abandoned it after a few months at most.

Not very encouraging for Apple. But they have revolutionized, reinvented and reinvigorated markets before. I expect they will do it again. But what twists will they bring to it? A touch screen keyboard? Pre-emptive text? (that was a neat add-on on my Palm)

Tim Anderson over at IT Writing wrote in October 2003 about tablet PCs. He makes the point that basically said that tablets aren’t much good for writing large blocks of text - which is what I’ve found with the pen. Consequently they will only capture a niché market (form fillers) until something special happens. Will that be Apple?

Ink needs some work before it’s ready for use with a tablet, but I don’t imagine Apple have been sitting on their hands. Currently it’s at version 1.2 When the Tablet Mac comes, expect at least version 2.0. Apple do have their work cut for them. But they’ve done it before and I reckon they’ll do it again. I reckon when they bring out a Tablet Mac, it will be something special.

And Bill will be saying, “Why didn’t we think of that?” (And then he’ll go and copy it and make a fortune - smiting the Tablet Mac along the way.)


  • Of course it’s a souped-up PDA, or maybe a slimmed down Powerbook with a touchscreen, whatever you prefer. I doubt we have the technology for something as cool as the Knowledge Navigator yet. The everything-everywhere approach demands for notebook-like performance indeed. Basically it is the home-on-iPod approach a step further, allowing input and giving independence from the presence of a Mac + liberated from obscene notebook power-consumption.  Of course you could replace all the stationary PCs in my scenario with just displays & backup drives, but since we cannot yet pack the power of a Dual G5 or similar desktop X86 in a portable unit we should not throw them away yet. Nevertheless, since it is autonomous, you would not need a stationary PC unless you wanted one. Just like Newton. This is also the dangerous part, it could kill Apple’s 12” notebook sales.

    BTW, the Handwriting Engineer vacancy at Apple is due to Larry Yeager now working at Indiana University.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Aug 25, 2005 Posts: 371
  • The device would offer several advantages over a plain laptop or a PDA. The charger/base station connects to your home entertainment system. It would act as a streaming receiver (if Apple can overcome WiFi’s slowness) or else you would place your video iPod into the base station when you wanted to watch a movie. You could of course take it with you to watch movies on the train but few people would do that.

    A laptop alone could run the iTunes Movie Store but won’t have the same level of home entertainment integration.

    It may be disappointing to you, Chris, because although it would support notebook-replacement features, it would really be targeted at a much larger market: DVD player replacement. Just like the iPod replaces your CD player.

    Plus, HBO and Blockbuster don’t sell porn on demand. Oops, did I say that out loud?

    innate had this to say on Aug 25, 2005 Posts: 12
  • I say give the base a FireWire-Port or integrate a TB-HD straight away. No need for excessive streaming & tablet becomes superremote. Problem: You could not take it *all* with you, not today, with 2,5” drives maxing out at 160GB.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Aug 25, 2005 Posts: 371
  • I’m from the MS Tablet PC user camp, and many of the things you say here are already possible through what you have today on this thing. Through a free Experience Pack, you get a neat little program called Media Transfer, that can Download, schedule downloads of media files, and even stream them if you want from your desktop PC. And in a very friendly Tablet UI too. Seems they used some experience from the Medie Center Edition with this program, and it works like a charm. I know it’s not iTunes grin Handwriting reco became really good with SP2 (SP2 was a big advance forward for the tablet system) so now I can write big blocks of text without editing. For my handwriting, it’s over 99% right, and that’s without changing how I usually write.

    I would love competition in this area as that would push the development further than ever before, and is only good for us costumers in the end. But really, the MS tablet system is pretty solid as is, and Vista is going to be an other leap forward for tablet users. Apple needs to get things moving fast if they are to catch up. (Imo the apple OS is more “pen frienldy” out of the box, so it seems like a perfect OS to move over to the tablet interface)

    Heip had this to say on Aug 26, 2005 Posts: 1
  • Heip and Chris,

    You guys are still talking about an Apple tablet as if it will just be a Windows tablet but with OS X installed.

    Apple won’t do that.

    Hopefully Apple will realize that it’s the form factor that is the downfall of tablet PCs. They are way too big. And you don’t want a flip out keyboard because it makes it too big and clunky. And even a 12” screen is too big (or, at best, at the very largest edge of a range of products—most with smaller screens).

    An Apple tablet should be about half the size of a 12” iBook. Take an iBook screen, chop it in half (but widescreen) and then cram as many electronics behind it as possible while keeping it as thin as possible. NO KEYBOARD.

    As I said before (and BadBeaver and Innate chimed in), it’s a super-sized and video-enriched PDA/iPod hybrid. It’s NOT a notebook computer. It might have OS X on it, but you won’t be using iDVD on the thing, nor writing the Great American Novel.

    matters had this to say on Aug 26, 2005 Posts: 21
  • Hehe, matters, I am just reading “Defying Gravity” and got across the line “no, you don’t understand, it is not a computer, it is something new”. And that is key. There might be a form of OS X on it, and some apps might have the same name & functionality as on the Mac, but it must not be a Mac. You cannot just take a desktop computer and cram it into a tablet, no worky. The GUI has to be very different.

    I am perfectly with you about the size, but the keyboard is a difficult matter.
    1) a keyboard makes for a very efficient display cover
    2) you may need it
    1) it would be less tempting to create a machine that works entirely without a keyboard, which is what we want
    2) it adds bulk
    3) the keyboard will be too small

    I use a foldable Palm keyboard with my Newt which is small enough to go anywhere the Newt goes, and unfolds to full-size. Perfect. Maybe it’s best to forget about the keyboard since there’s plenty foldable Bluetooth models out there.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Aug 26, 2005 Posts: 371
  • Matters, you’ve answered the question then. No Apple can’t save the Tablet.

    If the “tablet” is what you, innate and Bad Beaver suggest - super-duper Newton, then that’s exciting and I’d want one, but I’ll still be disappointed that Apple couldn’t save the tablet.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Aug 28, 2005 Posts: 1209
  • If the tablet is defined by today’s oversized, low battery-life, low innovation, disfunctional interface sporting devices - you may conclude like this, and it is doubtful these are worth saving in the first place. The pen-based interface as such deserves better.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Aug 29, 2005 Posts: 371
  • Yeah, Chris, what Bad Beaver said.

    Apple saved the MP3 player market (terrible interfaces; oversized, ugly devices) by redefining it with the iPod.

    Apple saved the “headless Mac” concept (can you imagine an oversized, noisy, beige “cheap” Mac?) by redefining it with the Mac mini.

    Apple will, I hope, save the Tablet market by redefining it, too.

    matters had this to say on Aug 29, 2005 Posts: 21
  • I like the concept of a pen tablet interface, but I can’t justify the cost of a Windows version for the limited functionality and slower input (as opposed to typing).

    If Apple can redefine the concept with functionality that actually delivers what it promises, it can own the field.

    Miche Rutledge had this to say on Sep 12, 2005 Posts: 1
  • I think a lot of you are missing a very important aspect….....especially Matters!
    “An Apple tablet will not even be about media CREATION (a la iMovie or iDVD), it will be all about media/Internet CONSUMPTION.”

    I think you’ve lost too many brain cells from too much consuming and not enough creating, matters.  Just because you are a brainless zombie that does nothing but absorb the world around you, doesn’t mean others are too!  (how do you think you’re able to consume all this stuff if no one is CREATING?!)  ....and by the way it’s rude to use CAPS––you’re hurting my ears! smile 

    I’m an Interactive Media Specialist so I take great offense to your comments!  Does anyone else out there know that Apple is creating an advanced Photo editing app of it’s own–geared to compete directly with Photoshop?!  now think bout how many copies of Photoshop have been sold in it’s history….......every single copy that has been sold is not for CONSUMING, it’s for creating!  Now look at another invention from Wacom called the Cintiq!  It is an interactive pen display which you can edit photos or draw directly on!
      Now combine the functionality of the Cintiq with Apple Photo Pro, and possibly an iTunes video store–––now we’re talking!  CONSUMPTION & CREATION!  Take that, matters!  and for all you losers that want a portable video device with a display less than 7inches, I’d say give up your hopes now!  I wouldn’t expect apple to come out with a tablet that has a screen less than 10inches, that is unless they want another Newton disaster on their hands!

    Anyyways, expect Apple to come out with a tablet, video store, and it’s Photo software within the same quarter!  If they do decide to take the plunge that is!

    Vets had this to say on Sep 13, 2005 Posts: 7
  • Matter said, “*THAT* is what a tablet is suited for. Just like a PDA/iPod hybrid—except that it’ll have a larger wide-screen view for videos, and much more powerful than a PDA.
    You don’t have to force your lazy opinion on the rest of us, I doubt Apple would ever hire you if you spoke in that tone all the time!  ...and by the way I hope you have fun watching videos on your $3000 tiny assed screen!

    Vets had this to say on Sep 13, 2005 Posts: 7
  • One more thing….......this is directed towards Bad Beaver.  Sorry to lash out at you too, but I have the flu right now and have to blow off some steam!  smile  I hope your commute to work is longer than 2 hours if you plan on setting up tech central every day!  If it’s not, then you really need to look into your addiction to technology!  Think about the good ol days when there were no computers!!  You’re looking for a one way ticket to getting mugged, think bout how much $$$$ you’d have in your lap, I’m sure some @$$ would notice.  If kids are getting murdered for just an iPod then I dunno what they’d do to you, you’d better have some money left over to buy yourself a gun!!  smile  Seriously! 

    Bad Beaver said, “On your 30min subway ride you listen to your iPod while reading your websites. You notice a playlist you’ve been working on is not perfect, so you quickly connect the iPod to the tablet & edit. You notice the playlist lacks a critical song, so you activate bluetooth and use iTunes on the tablet to connect to iTMSmobile via your cellphone.”

    So I see you are addicted, since you quote a 30 minute subway ride!  Why the hell would you even need an iPod if you have a tablet with you “all the time” , woudn’t you save the money and just use a phone that had an embedded music player, such as the ROKR?! ....considering you’re gonna change your songs all the time anyways! I can understand a shuffle, but not even a mini, or nano!  Anyways just my 2 cents!  sorry I’m not addicted to this cyber world!

    Vets had this to say on Sep 13, 2005 Posts: 7
  • Hi, Vets. Welcome to the thread. My apologies for the all-caps. What can I say—it was a weak moment. grin

    Vets said, ”  ...and by the way I hope you have fun watching videos on your $3000 tiny assed screen!”

    Ah, but that’s my point—it won’t be $3000 because that’s one of the primary problems with Windows tablets: they’re too expensive. Normal people just don’t buy $3000 computers anymore. That’s so 1980s. wink

    Vets said, “Just because you are a brainless zombie that does nothing but absorb the world around you, doesn’t mean others are too!  (how do you think you’re able to consume all this stuff if no one is CREATING?!”

    Ah, but I do create—quite a bit, actually. My main computer is a dual 2.0 GHz G5 with a 24-inch screen. Now that’s a photo-editing station. A tablet is not a heavy-duty photo editing station or a video editing station. The screen is way too small. Apple promoted large, widescreen monitors so you can fit all your palettes on the screen while editing your image. You can’t do that on a 8-inch, 10-inch, or even a 12-inch monitor. Oh, sure, maybe some basic iPhoto retouching (red eye removal, autofix, basic cropping) but that’s about it.

    Vets, you’re making the same mistake that Chris is making. You’re thinking of a tablet as a desktop replacement. But it won’t be.

    Repeat after me: A tablet is not a desktop replacement. A tablet is not a desktop replacement…..

    A tablet is an accessory, just like an iPod.

    Do you do any creating on an iPod? Well, sure, you can rate songs and create on-the-go playlists, but that’s about it.

    An Apple tablet would be an iPod/VideoPod/PDA supercombo device. You’ll be able to do some creating (iPhoto, iCal, Address Book, e-mail, Pages, etc.) but it won’t be your primary input device. Your primary input device will still be your desktop or laptop.

    Anyone who thinks a tablet is going to be a Photoshop or Final Cut Pro or DVD Studio Pro workstation is on drugs.

    An Apple tablet will be a consumer device, like an iPod. People won’t think of it as a “computer”. It probably won’t be called a “Mac”.

    matters had this to say on Sep 13, 2005 Posts: 21
  • Matters said, “Ah, but that’s my point—it won’t be $3000 because that’s one of the primary problems with Windows tablets: they’re too expensive. Normal people just don’t buy $3000 computers anymore. That’s so 1980s. “

    Yes but most “normal people” don’t buy Macs in the first place!  and I dunno what you’re talking about prices.  I paid nearly $4000 US for my decked out Powerbook 15” 1.67GHz, and that’s not counting my iPod or software!  If Apple is going to revolutionize the tablet market they’re not just gonna come out with another “accessory” like all the other companies.

    They won’t come out with something that no one would buy if they already had a laptop, I mean look how small the 12” powerbook is! They’ll come out with something that will either replace their laptop or persuade someone in the market for a laptop to go for a more expensive tablet!  and if you really need keyboard input you can buy a wireless Virtual Keyboard which are already on sale!  Also having a fairly large screen and interactivity would be a blessing to me so I don’t have to lug my laptop and Wacom tablet with me–––clearly you’re not a designer of any kind.  If you were you’d understand that most creating using a tablet you work zoomed far in, therefore you wouldn’t need a huge screen–––think about how small most tablets are!

    Matters said, “Vets, you’re making the same mistake that Chris is making. You’re thinking of a tablet as a desktop replacement. But it won’t be.”

    When did I ever hint the tablet as being a desktop replacement, I was hinting that it was a LAPTOP replacement, sorry I have to yell! smile  and don’t tell me it can’t be!  Obviously you’re right it can’t be a desktop replacement!  I have a dual 2.7GHZ G5 with 30” Cinema display and 9x12” Intuos 3 tablet…..there’s no possible way a portable device could replace that,  But it could be used to do last minute perctions on my digital work, even if it is just a 12” screen or so, cause I work zoomed in!

    Matters said, “An Apple tablet will be a consumer device, like an iPod. People won’t think of it as a “computer”. It probably won’t be called a “Mac”.

    If it ran OSX––obviously it would be called a “Mac”!  and obviously if they do come out with a tablet it will run OSX!

    Matters said, “Anyone who thinks a tablet is going to be a Photoshop or Final Cut Pro or DVD Studio Pro workstation is on drugs.”

    Not a workstation, that is what you’re desktop is for; but for finishing touches on your way to work–priceless! smile
    And yes I AM on drugs!  They’ll do wonders for your creative side, maybe you should try some!  smile

    Vets had this to say on Sep 13, 2005 Posts: 7
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