Two years ago, in a fit of pre-Macworld euphoria, I posted a short article explaining my history with tablet computers and my desire for Apple to bring its own special touch to the form factor. At the time, the idea of an iTablet was no more than wishful thinking. It appears, however, that my wish may be coming true. So what is there to add to this discussion where so many pixels have already been sacrificed? To start, it is a good idea to look at those those articles I’ve found most insightful.
While all three of the above articles have different takes on where this new device will go, they also have a common threads: the device is going to err on the side of simplicity over complexity. For instance, a user interface that more closely resembling an iPhone over that of a Mac. Likewise most agree the operating system will be more focused on the needs of a touch based tablet as opposed to the load anything, run anything operating system of the last generation of Windows tablets. This is most certainly the right direction.
My Tablet Experience
I used a tablet PC as my primary machine for about 18 months starting in 2003. This experience gave me some insight about what worked and what didn’t.
There really is nothing more natural than holding a screen in your arm and using a pen (or better yet finger) to manipulate the UI. It felt much more natural than a mouse when it worked. I do a great deal of reading. Doing my reading on the tablet almost made that experience easier. The hardware limitations got in the way but when the stars aligned and I was able to reference web content, saved research, and other assets with the stylus, it was quite liberating.
Interestingly, my favorite app on the PC tablet was Microsoft’s OneNote. This was the one application that was built with the idea of pen computing in mind and it felt like it. Sure it had some issues but taking notes with the pen generally worked. Furthermore, digital annotation of PDF files was painless. I think Microsoft had the right idea with this app but didn’t take it to its logical conclusion. They should have forked Windows and made a tablet operating system with tablet apps. If the full experience was like that of OneNote, Microsoft’s tablet push may have taken hold.
The biggest problem with the Tablet PC was hardware. It was heavy, large, slow to boot, ran extremely hot on my lap, and the battery life was dreadful. Put simply, it did everything to discourage me from taking it out of my bag except zap me with 120 volts every time I touched it.
So Apple is probably cooking up its own tablet. Presumably it will have a sleek design that incorporates a custom UI, instant on, and otherwise cure most of the sins that led me to ultimately ditch my last tablet computer. This still leads to the question, however, of “why?” What is the compelling reason to use a tablet when we already have incredibly powerful laptops and equally handy pocket computers in our phones. Even though Apple has never even acknowledged the tablet project, PC World has already determined it would be useless for business. I disagree.
How Does It Fit?
A lot of people are asking what they would do with a tablet. I’m sure Apple has an explanation or they wouldn’t release a product. Apple enters markets with a sniper rifle, not a bazooka. As a former tablet user, I have some ideas how I would use such a device.
I’ve been using a first generation Kindle for some time and come to rely upon it. While I initially made fun of the technology, the ability to carry professional journals, reference materials, Instapaper articles, and fiction anywhere is wonderful. Using an Apple Tablet, I’d be able to duplicate that functionality and combine it with a working browser, which brings everything up a notch.
Also, Don’t underestimate the use of a well executed tablet while working at your real computer. It becomes a second monitor and processor. For instance, I could annotate research on the tablet and refer to that screen while writing about the research on my iMac or MacBook. You could also run social networking apps, like Twitter, on the tablet while working on your Mac or even watch a screencast about software on the tablet while operating the software on the Mac.
Much of my daily routine involves sharing information with others, be it in the form of PDF’s, timelines, diagrams, or Keynote slides. Being able to do this on a tablet would be extremely convenient and natural in small meetings.
Much of my routine involves data management in applications like OmniFocus, Bento, OmniOutliner, and my PDF viewer. I don’t need a keyboard with these apps so much as I need quick access to reference materials and the ability to make adjustments. The ability to access this data without sitting down to a laptop would be great.
While you certainly don’t need a tablet to review RSS feeds and web surf, it sure would be handy if the UI is done right.
I’ve never watched many movies on the iPhone because the screen is too small. This is even more true for educational video podcasts. That problem disappears entirely with a 10” screen. Moreover, the tablet could be a fantastic gaming machine. Playing chess on a larger screen strikes me as a much more pleasurable experience than on an iPhond. I’m sure that would be equally true for any of the tower defense and action titles that would immediately flood any Apple tablet App Store.
Writing on a tablet seems to be the biggest challenge. This will entirely depend on Apple’s implementation. I think it will be difficult to have any system match my typing speed unless the device works with a bluetooth keyboard. I’ve been wanting one of those on the iPhone since it launched and I’m not holding my breath. I will note, however, that since most iPhone apps now work in landscape mode, I’ve found my typing accuracy and speed on it to have substantially improved. Regardless, we’ll have to wait until the 27th on this one.
While I have some concerns about writing on a tablet, I think it would be ideal for proof reading and editing. I have followed the rumors of a tablet version of iWork with some attention. I think this would be a great platform to make small edits. Pages, Numbers, and Keynote on the tablet would be ideal.
The App Store
I expect the Apple tablet to have the same gold-rush onslaught of applications that the iPhone received. I’m sure creative developers will find new ways for me to use the device that I’ve never dreamed of.
One More Revolution
I’m really fortunate. I used PC’s before the Mac and was there to see the way the original Mac fundamentally changed the relationship between humans and their computers. I saw a similar transformation a few years ago with the introduction of the iPhone. I am now very excited to see what Apple does with the tablet form factor. It is, in my opinion, the next revolution and I can not wait to be a part of it.