What It Will Take for Me to Buy an Apple Tablet January 24, 2010

Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you’ve heard about the impending announcement of the long-rumored tablet computer from Apple. This Wednesday, January 27th, Apple is holding a special event in San Francisco to announce its “latest creation”.

Apple Tablet Invitation

The invitation (above) itself has spawned a wave of speculation, as to what the paint splotches might mean. Clearly they’re about to announce a tablet of some kind, but could the invitation design mean the tablet has some “creative” focus? I guess we’ll see.

It’s no secret that I’m a total Apple fanboy. I ditched the PC around 2003 and never looked back (I’d have switched much earlier, had I been able to afford it). I’ve had about 8 or so Macs, including a blueberry iMac, G3 and G4 towers, Powerbook, Macbook and Macbook Pro. And I’ve got a couple Minis around here. I’ve also had a couple iPods, the first-gen iPhone and currently the iPhone 3GS.

Gizmodo Apple Tablet sampleAll that said, I’m having a hard time coming up with scenarios in which I’d plunk down the money for this new mystery device. If all we’re talking about is a giant iPod Touch, then no thank you. Because if all it does is surf the web and play audio and video, then I’ve already got Apple products that do that just fine.

I feel like an Apple tablet has to find a clever way to naturally insert itself between the iPhone/iPod and an entry-level Macbook, both in function and pricepoint. Here are some things that could push me towards buying:

eBooks

Kindle vs NookI’ve been toying with the idea of buying an Amazon Kindle for quite some time now. I’m mostly interested in it for the ability to migrate my technical library (programming books, etc) to one device I can carry in my backpack. I’ve hesitated, both because of the price, and because it really only does that one thing. I only paid $50 more for my iPhone 3GS, but look at the vast difference in features between the two.

So far, the rumors are that Apple has been in talks with several book, magazine and newspaper publishers, presumably for inclusion into some sort of tablet-based e-reader. I think this would be a fantastic, and almost necessary, feature of the new tablet. Question is, can it compare to the Kindle or Nook? Absolutely. Functionally, it could do everything the aforementioned readers can do, and about a hundred more. Plus sound, color and full interactivity.

The major issue the Apple tablet will have (at least at first), is selection. To have bestsellers available is one thing. But if the Apple book store doesn’t have a good technical library, I’m still not sold. For example, almost every PHP, javascript or css book I’ve looked at has a Kindle version. To date, none of them have been available for the Nook, making the Kindle my clear front-runner. It’ll be interesting how many titles a new Apple book store will contain.

Video

Netflix StreamingObviously, iPhones, iPods and Macbooks all can do video. However, I can’t watch The Big Lebowski on Netflix streaming at the same time I’m trying to draw a comic strip in Photoshop. My CPU would tank before The Dude’s rug is peed on. I can watch video on my iPhone, but I’ve got no good way to prop it up, and it would still have to be six inches in front of my face. Plus, I’d be limited to what I could get via the iTunes store, or ripped myself.  

However, if a 10-inch Apple tablet could play HD-quality video and had some sort of kickstand on the back, now we’re getting somewhere. I’d love to have a little TV next to my main monitor to watch whatever I want while I’m working, with no adverse effects on my main machine. I’m doubtful it would still support Netflix, as this would cannibalize Apple’s own video sales and rentals. Still, it would be a good start. And maybe allow it to be controlled by both the little white Apple remote or an iPhone.

Drawing

Wacom Cintiq 12wx A few months ago, I bought a 12-inch Wacom Cintiq tablet. It’s essentially a drawing pad with a monitor built right in. You literally draw right on the screen. I absolutely love that thing, but it also cost a cool grand. And that’s all it does. It’s just a drawing tablet, not a full computer.

While I would never consider parting with my Cintiq, if the Apple tablet could be used for drawing with a pressure-sensitive pen, it would be a huge draw (no pun intended) to digital artists of all kinds. I’d still use my main tablet, but it’d be great to be able to sketch on something much more portable (the Cintiq has this whole breakout box and lots of cords).

The real issue with this functionality is the software. As with the iPhone, the tablet will likely run a stripped-down version of the OSX operating system. In other words, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to use Photoshop on it. That said, who’s to say Apple won’t introduce it’s own drawing/sketching app specially made for the tablet. That would actually be pretty sweet.

Text Input

iPhone keyboard slider concept This is another stumbling block for the tablet, how to write with it? It seems most pundits expect there to be the usual virtual keyboard, likely some modified version of what the iPhone uses. But at a much larger size, it’s not like you could one-thumb-type with this thing. And pecking with one finger on a larger keyboard would feel kinda weird (and slow). It also wouldn’t be wide enough to place two hands on it, even if you could get used to not actually feeling keys beneath your fingers.

Steve Jobs has gone on-record several times saying he doesn’t like buttons and despises the idea of a stylus. They’ve also yet to allow for bluetooth keyboards for the iPhone, which I’m sure they could sell. I think if this device sits in the lineup between the iPhone and the Macbook, it has to accommodate some type of hardware input device, on top of the ubiquitous multi-touch we’re all used to. It doesn’t even have to come with one, but there should be support for it. And obviously, if they pair the tablet with some type of drawing application, it would have to come with a stylus.

Price

So let’s face it, a ton of people will want this, and for many the only reason not to buy one the day it’s announced is price. Rumors are all over the board as to a price point; everything from $599 to $999. But here’s what I’m thinking. The most expensive iPhone is currently $299. An entry-level Macbook is $999. If we split the difference, something in the middle would be around $650. I think if Apple rounded down to $599 they could have the best possible price. If they go up to $699, I think that’s pushing the limit of what people are willing to pay for a larger version of the iPhone/Touch. And according to a recent survey, most consumers would not be willing to pony up $700 for a new device.

The Other Stuff

Beyond all that, let’s assume this magic tablet will also do all the normal stuff like surfing the web, checking email, playing music and even games. There will likely also be an SDK for support of third-party apps, just like the iPhone.

So again, a big-ass iPhone for $599 still doesn’t sound all that appealing to me. But a 10-inch HD television I can read books and draw on, that lets me (optionally) connect a keyboard and is under six hundred bucks? Count me in.