I find it amazing and crazy that a company that hasn’t even acknowledged that it has a tablet-like computing device in development is getting more news coverage and attention than products that are already here or have been actually announced. How many e-readers and tablet devices were publicly announced at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month? I’m already forgetting they exist as the famed Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) tablet continues to crowd everything else out of my brain.
Apple has been flogged in the past for maintaining a psychotic veil of secrecy, but you can’t argue that it doesn’t work. I don’t know how to begin translating all the news coverage into marketing Download Free eBook – The Edge of Success: 9 Building Blocks to Double Your Sales dollars, but secrecy for Apple is most definitely worth millions.
Meanwhile, some basic assumptions are shaking out into pretty solid predictions: The so-called tablet will likely run a version of iPhone OS; it’ll probably look like a big iPod touch; it’ll have 3G connectivity and a camera; it’ll offer a new way to view traditional print media; and it’ll have a kick-ass alarm clock built in.
The Terrible Let-Down
In fact, there’s been so much hype, so many articles and blog posts and surveys and predictions, that I’m starting to think we’re going to be in a big let down once Jobs finally unveils it. As I start to think about it, there’ll likely be plenty of room for complainers. I’m not yet ready to say legitimate complaints, but complaints, nonetheless, will arrive.
First, the cost. Most predictions are falling in the US$700 to $1,000 range, with the option for different sizes. Either way, this is a lot of money for what I consider a non-essential device. Yet one report from ChangeWave Research claimed that one in five American consumers said they would likely buy an Apple tablet device. Really? One in five? Go ahead, scratch your head and think about that one a bit.
Retrevo, on the other hand, has reported survey results that say 70 percent of its respondents said they would NOT spend over $700 on an Apple tablet device. That sounds a bit more reasonable.
If Apple offers a tablet with a cellular service provider backing it — say, Verizon — which offers the tablet up with a 2-year contract requiring a monthly fee for data access, this presents several issues. First, it could lower the cost of acquisition, but at the same time it requires an extra monthly payment. For a tablet, I believe a new monthly payment is a tough pill for most consumers to swallow. Most potential buyers will likely already be shelling out for high-speed access at home, and they’ll likely already be shelling out extra data for their smartphone, and now for a tablet, too? What did Retrevo report? Their survey said that 44 percent of respondents would NOT buy an Apple tablet if it required a monthly data plan, and yet 39 percent said a tablet needed 3G in order to get them to buy it in the first place.
Now, I’m guessing Apple will offer a tablet that’s available with a subsidy and without — seems like Apple would have enough clout to do what it wants here, and I have a hard time imagining the cellular service companies turning Apple away after the success of the iPhone.
So what’s the disappointment? The realization that while consumers can buy a tablet at a pretty cost of acquisition, they’ll spend a boatload more over two years — and that’s if the chosen service provider even provides a decent signal into their homes.
The Operating System
The latest rumor, coming out of mobile analytics firm Flurry, claims that Apple is testing 50 devices on its Cupertino campus. The devices in question seem to match the characteristics of Apple’s rumored tablet and are running on OS 3.2, whereas current iPod touch and iPhones are running on iPhone OS 3.1.2. What does this mean?
Apple’s tablet might be running the iPhone OS, which means it’s not running Mac OS X, which means users may be stuck inside Apple’s ecosystem. Sure, that ecosystem is more than 100,000 apps large, but it’s not as open as Mac OS X. If you want to develop an application for the tablet, it seems, you’ve got to go through Apple’s gatekeepers. For some people, this is going to be a very big disappointment. Of course, if Apple offers Mac OS X or an alternate application deployment option, Apple will snag a good bit of happiness from power users or those who prefer open devices.
Might an Apple tablet have a new form of haptics that lets users type on a flat glass screen quickly and efficiently? Or will it sport a big iPod touch-like keyboard? Either way, there’s a better chance than not that the input mechanism will be disappointing. Sure, the iPhone’s onscreen keyboard is tolerable, but I expect more out of a tablet. Might there be an external keyboard option? Hopefully, but we can’t count on it. How about through a third-party hardware option? Who knows how locked-down Apple will be here.
Then there’s voice recognition, which would be awesome, but hardly a replacement for typing out a bunch of emails on the road in an airport.
What if there’s no camera for video conferencing? What if the battery life isn’t particularly compelling? What if it boasts a powerful processor but still won’t let Adobe’s (Nasdaq: ADBE) Flash play?
There are some new rumors floating around that claim Apple CEO Steve Jobs told his friends that the tablet will be the most important thing he’s ever done. No way to know right now if he actually said that, but that also means that the tablet has to change the world — and that means it’s got to be more than a hardware device. It’ll have to provide a desirable method to do more, which might be the rumored (damn, I’m getting tired of typing that word, “rumored”) deals Apple is working with book, magazine and newspaper publishers to create new ways of delivering content. For newspapers, this might mean saving their existence altogether. For book publishers, particularly textbook publishers, students might get reasonably priced (and easily updated) textbook content.
What about television? Might Apple be able to let consumers subscribe only to the content channels or television shows they actually want? Right now, I’m stuck paying for a bunch multi-channel cable or satellite TV packages that clutter my experience and generally get in the way of what I really want. Can Apple fix that … or might I be disappointed, too?
There’s so much more to wonder about — and worry about. Will a tablet stream video content to my Apple TV? Or will I need to go through the hassle of transferring rented movies from a Mac, to the Apple TV, and to a tablet or iPod? Gotta love that DRM. How about an HDMI out port? Please?
One thing is for certain, though: On Wednesday, when Apple finally holds its media event, we at least have some answers — and another big, huge round of media coverage, complete with complaints and predictions.