The Apple tablet, if it arrives, is an extension of a trend that's already taken hold.
Brooke CrothersFormer CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
The Apple tablet, if it arrives, is an extension of a design that already has mass appeal--and does not require a leap of faith to believe it will succeed.
The Apple iPhone and iPod are arguably small tablets--and consumers have demonstrated unmistakably that they love these devices. So, a larger, more versatile version of the iPod makes perfect sense.
And some not-so-small companies like Qualcomm and Intel are pushing tablet-like devices for their next-generation silicon. So this isn't just Apple (if the Apple tablet rumors are indeed true).
That said, let's not limit this potential market to Apple. A company clever enough to design a compelling Google Chrome OS-based tablet, for example, will also succeed, if an Android-based tablet design doesn't arrive first.
Semantics is one obstacle to understanding the potential appeal of a re-conceived tablet. Think of it this way: it's not a tablet in the sense of the kludgy, thick, heavy, uninspired tablets of yore. Or even the ugly, thick, heavy convertible laptops available today.
Think of it as a mobile Internet device. Or whatever you choose to call it. The point is that it's designed around wireless connectivity and real portability. It's very thin, very light, has a larger screen than an iPod, and, most importantly, comes with an inspired user interface.
There will be losers in the market, of course. PC makers who continue to sell bulky warmed-over laptops with a clumsy interface will be greeted with limited consumer acceptance--as in years past. The Apples of the world will succeed.
Here are some possible specifications that are based on what Qualcomm is proposing (since the Apple tablet is still only a rumor):
Less than 2 pounds
Under 20mm thick (0.8 inches)
All-day battery life
3G/4G mobile broadband
Robust 3D graphics, HD video
No waiting, instant-on
I would buy it (and that's not a shallow promise made only to buttress my argument), despite the fact I have never seriously considered a tablet in the past. Why? Simple: it's functional. More specifically, it's extremely functional as a secondary device--and its size and weight have a lot to do with this.
And, as opposed to today's Netbooks that are just downsized laptops, you could whip this device (8- to 10-inch screen size) out of your bag and it would be instantly accessible and have a screen big enough to do 90 percent of what you can do on your laptop.
As one reader said responding to a post by CNET's Rafe Needleman: "The Apple tablet isn't a computer, any more than the iPhone is a computer. The tablet is a media player that's also an information appliance. You have to judge these things by different criteria."
Another reader posed an obvious but important question: "Will we be inspired?"
And another comment, which basically crystallizes the points above and states my argument: "I see my iPhone as a mini tablet. Depending on the price, I would definitely consider buying a larger, easier to read/type device."
In short, I don't need a smaller version (i.e., a Netbook) of something I already have. As a secondary device, it should be different than my primary laptop and provide a different kind of utility.
My prediction: 2010 will be the year of the re-conceived tablet.