UPDATED: Will Apple Introduce a Tablet, and will you Take a Bite?

Updates can be seen at the end of the original article.
touch mockup
A mocked up version of Apple's rumored tablet PC...
There's been a great deal of speculation over the past few months regarding the existence of an Apple tablet PC.  Will it have the same form factor as a traditional convertible tablet, with its swivel screen or will it be like a giant iPhone? Will it run the iPhone OS, or a full version of MacOS X?  Does it even exist?  Best question ever – will you buy one?

There are a lot of people who say that an Apple tablet is going to be an eBook winner and an Amazon Kindle killer.  I however am not convinced and it goes back to the EXACT same thing I said just over 18 months ago on Gear Diary regarding the iPhone 3G, unless the cell coverage is there, its not going to make a bit of difference what kind of device and what kind of features it has.  The iTablet (or iSlate, as its rumored to be called) isn’t going to kill anything if it sits on AT&T’s 3G network, especially here in the Chicago-land area.

Devices like the Amazon Kindle with WhisperNet (which runs on Sprint’s wireless network), the Nook, and yes even the iPhone 3G/3G S, aren’t successful unless there’s network coverage around to make them usable as a wireless device.  While I hate to say it, there IS a map for that, and there IS something to what Verizon is saying – coverage and the reliability of that coverage make, or break a wireless device.

Apple’s new tablet device is supposed to function as an eBook reader, and as a portable touch-based computer.  In other words, simply a 10 inch version of the iPhone.  Will it have more Mac like functionality?  Good question.  Will it just be a bigger and perhaps clunkier iPhone? Another good question.  Will it also run on AT&T’s network?  Man, the good questions just keep on coming! Let’s tackle those one at a time.

Will Apple’s tablet be a Mac like computer?
There’s been a great deal of speculation on what the next Apple device would be – netbook, tablet, eBook reader, perhaps all three.  The jury is still out on what the device will actually do, (or if it will even be introduced at all) though there’s a great deal of speculation out there.

Will it be a larger version of the iPhone?
This is, in my opinion possible, but very unlikely.  The device WILL be cellular based like the iPhone, but its not going to be a “giant” iPhone.  Apple is too smart to create confusion with its products and introducing a tablet device that is simply a giant iPhone with a $400-$600 price tag will do nothing more than flop.  The unlocked iPhone is in that price range, and Apple isn’t in the habit of introducing products/devices with overlapping feature sets.

Will Apple partner with AT&T for the iTablet/iSlate?
Again, this is possible, but very unlikely in my opinion.  Amazon chose Sprint for WhisperNet for a specific reason – Sprint rides on a lot of Verizon’s 3G towers through roaming agreements, and they’re cheaper than Verizon itself.  AT&T has taken a great deal of bad press recently claiming that they’re going to charge large bandwidth consumers a higher data plan rate.  They’ve also been rumored to have stopped selling the iPhone 3G S in the New York area because of complaints and problems with their network coverage.  AT&T has taken a huge hit with their network, the bad press, etc., and Apple would do very well to rethink their partnership with the number 2 wireless carrier in The States.

There’s supposed to be an Apple event some time in January where the tablet will be officially introduced.  Many of us are watching for some kind of official announcement from Apple on the event; but nothing has been set in stone as of this writing.  I’ll get keeping my eyes and ears open; and if something does turn up, you’ll see something here as well as at iTechGear.org.

Apple’s official event graphic for 1/27/10…

Apple has scheduled a media event for Wednesday January 27, 2010. The title of the event, “Come see our latest creation!,” really begs the existence of the Apple Tablet. Recently, Fox News let the cat out of the bag right after Apple announced the event.  The Boy Genius Report recently posted on what they thought were going to be four big announcements related to the tablet.  We commented on this on JAMM

  • There will be multi-touch gestures OS-wide. (Would make sense for that as the rumored OS for the iTablet is close if not the same as the iPhone)
  • “A few new ways” to run applications in the background — multitasking.
  • Many graphical and UI changes to make navigating through the OS easier and more efficient. We haven’t had this broken down, but we can only hope for improved notifications, a refreshed home screen, etc.
  • The update will supposedly be available for only the iPhone 3G and 3GS, but will “put them ahead in the Smartphone market because it will make them more like full-fledged computers” more than any other phone to date. Everyone is “really excited.”
  • The last piece of information is the most vague, but apparently there will be some brand new syncing ability for the contacts and calendar applications.

There are rumors of a few different names for the device – the iPad, the iTablet and the iSlate.  Apple seems to be behind most, if not all, of the copyright and patent applications behind the names here in The States and worldwide.  So it will be interesting to see what happens next week.

As far as what iPhone OS 4.0 will include, I’m actually not surprised with anything that BGR cited.  If a tablet is going to be introduced (and no official information has come out EITHER WAY, supporting or refuting the rumor) it would have to support multi-touch throughout the operating system.  There isn’t going to be a built in touchpad.  The screen’s the thing…

Apple has pushed pretty hard against the idea of native multitasking in the iPhone from the word go.  Their take – it takes away from the overall device experience, and we’ve given you multitasking capabilities on everything we feel it should multitask.  For Apple to turn around now, and reverse that decision and enable OS-wide multitasking would be a huge surprise.  Its unusual for Apple to back track on its publically announced decisions (including the denial of a netbook or a tablet…) so go figure.

The last bullet, specifically related to a new synching ability for contacts and calendar apps really points to Apple’s licensing of Exchange ActiveSync in Snow Leopard.  Have they really embraced Exchange ActiveSync at the OS level?  Will OSX 10.6.3 bring updates to this ability for everyone?  Will iPhone OS 4.x enable the use of the iPhone 3G (S) as a business tool, or will there still be holes to fill?

Yesterday, I was asked to be a guest on the TechVi Bottom Line, hosted by Iyaz Atkhar. I was joined by Dana Wollman from Laptop Magazine and was representing JAMM.  The topic for the show..?  You guessed it – the Apple press event on 1/27. Specifically, will there be an Apple tablet or not.  You can see the video show below.

I love working with Iyaz and Randall Bennett.  TechVi shows are short, sweet, very informative, and usually cover some very topical issues.  I was thrilled to be contacted on Monday and asked to represent JAMM for the show!  The thing I liked the most about THIS particular show was some of the behind the scene discussions that we had before and after the taping.

While I won’t assign specific comments to any one person, suffice it to say that no one REALLY knows just what Apple is going to introduce as its” latest creation.”  There’s a great deal of speculation out there. Will it be a giant iPhone (a GiPhone, as I like to call it), a tablet PC with Bluetooth so that it can connect with Apple’s wireless keyboard (effectively adopting a true slate tablet PC form factor)?  Will it have e-ink support and allow the user to write on the screen (like a standard tablet PC)? Will it run OS-X, iPhone OS (OS 3.x, OS 4.x??), dual boot both so it can couple with Amazon’s Kindle software for the iPhone/iPod Touch and be an Amazon enabled, Macintosh-esque eBook reader as well as a tablet PC?

All of these are great questions; and NO ONE in the industry is willing to say definitively what will happen, as official word from Apple hasn’t leaked, and won’t come before the event on the 27th. This one has the potential to be huge, and no one, myself included, wants to be wrong.

I also saw an interesting article on Apple Insider related to AT&T’s needed investment to make its wireless network equivalent to Verizon’s.  The cost – a mind numbing $5-7 BILLION dollars (yes, that’s Carl Sagan “Billions”).   In Chicago-land, this is key and critical.

Even though Chicago is already covered by 3G service, the coverage, well…well, it sucks.  Not only would they have to cover more of the country, but AT&T would have to even out and plug holes in their coverage to insure tower hand-offs didn’t kill calls and data connections (a chronic problem experienced by me and nearly EVERY iPhone user here in Chi-town).

AT&T should have been reinvesting in its wireless infrastructure during its iPhone exclusivity.  If it had, bringing the GiPhone or Apple Tablet to AT&T could have been a no-brainer.  Now, because there *IS* a map for that, not only is Verizon Wireless (or nearly any other major US carrier) a better choice, AT&T is so far behind, that this Herculean effort will not only be costly, but painful for employees and customers alike.

What do YOU think?  Will Apple announce its tablet on January 27th?  Will it be tethered to AT&T? If not, will it be VzW, some other carrier or truly unlocked(GSM/CDMA/LTE compatible)? Why not join me in the discussion below, and give me your thoughts?

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