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.)


  • Vets,

    You’re talking about a PowerBook with a touchscreen built in. That’s basically what Windows tablets are (a powerful laptop with a touchscreen), and that’s why they failed—teensy eensy market for something like that. In your case, you’re talking about Photoshop users who need to make last minute changes on the way in to work. There’s no way Apple’s gonna make a machine just for them. Not enough of ‘em.

    Apple is turning into a service provider, a software company, and a consumer electronics company. Think iTunes & .Mac; FCP, DVDSP, iLife, iWork; and iPod.

    A tablet that’s more about CONSUMING standard content (web, email, movies, music) is something Apple will be able to sell to everyone—whether they own a Mac or Windows. It’s a much larger market than selling a souped-up-PowerBook-with-a-touchscreen to existing Mac users.

    A tablet is everything you need in a single box—hardware, software, everything. They’ll just try to sell you some Movies, iTunes, and .Mac subscriptions to get you to keep paying every month.

    It’s the subscription model, like cell phones or NetFlix. It’s the wave of the future, and it’s definitely the direction Apple is moving in.

    And I suppose that’s all I have to say on the subject.

    matters had this to say on Sep 13, 2005 Posts: 21
  • Matters said, “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.”

    I don’t know why or how you’re even comparing an iPod to a tablet?!  You lost me there!

    Vets had this to say on Sep 13, 2005 Posts: 7
  • Alright, about the only thing I agree with you Matters, is that there’s probably not enough market for what I’m talking about!  But that’s what I want and NEED!  haha Take care!  smile

    Vets had this to say on Sep 13, 2005 Posts: 7
  • Matters said, “In your case, you’re talking about Photoshop users who need to make last minute changes on the way in to work. There’s no way Apple’s gonna make a machine just for them. Not enough of ‘em.”

    You’d be suprised, why do you think Apple is working on their own version of a pro photo editing app hey?!  Although most of the Photoshop experts out there (like me) already have a powerful set-up in their studio, and would have a hard time justifying the purchase of an interactive tablet just for last minute touch-ups, unless of course they were able to deliver the machine at a Very reasonable price! smile

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