OK – so it is Tuesday night, the night before the tablet launches. I’ve been reading all the scuttlebut, and I think it boils down to this – unless Apple pulls a TOTAL miracle out of Steve’s scuttlebutt, I don’t think the tablet is going to be as big a deal as hyped. Remember Dean Kamen’s project Ginger? Whuzzat? Oh yeah, that’s what the Segway turned out to be. I think Apple’s Tablet is likely to be the Buzz to Bomb again, Segway 2010. Read on for why I think so.
Disclaimer – I own at least one of pretty much every type of gadget Apple makes*, and I own a bunch of Apple stock, and I’d REALLY like it to go through the roof, but I don’t think it is gonna. Nor am I selling, shorting, or taking any other action other than sitting on my stock. I have ZERO inside knowledge about it.
OK, so I see it like this:
1.) If, like me, you already have an app phone (Palm Pre, Android, or an iPhone as I do), and a laptop (MacBook in my case), what is this gadget going to do that you can’t on the others?
2.) If, as the rumors all indicate, the tablet will have new media capabilities and deals cut with content creators/distributors, why couldn’t, wouldn’t, and most importantly, SHOULDN’T that content be available on desktops, laptops, AppleTV and iPhone?
3.) Unless there’s a major subsidy going on with a data partner (latest hints point at maintaining the AT&T relationship, but maybe adding Verizon in as well? But that’d require different network capabilities, and Apple is ALWAYS a single SKU solution kinda company – so they’d need chipsets capable of BOTH. Not seein’ that happen.), this gadget is going to be EXPENSIVE. How expensive? Apple expensive. In this economy? Yeaaaaaaaaah…..sales Nawt Sew Grate, Akshully.
4.) An expensive gadget in this economy that doesn’t replace better/faster/cheaper something I already think I need every day, and instead proposes to tell me there I things I didn’t think I needed that I now gotta have and
I’m expecting this thing to run my existing iPhone Apps just fine, scaled down, possibly stretchable up (in a bad Photoshop scale kind of a way), and I can poke around to pick the one I want to be active. Want a preview of this capability? It is built into your Mac, it is called Widgets. Imagine a screen full of widgets. I’m imagining this thing will be good at accessing and sharing data in the cloud, accessible via an enhanced/expanded version of MobileMe services. (This is all guesswork, don’t forget). I expect it to have no visible file system, everything you need is just kinda “there” like it is on an iPhone, and you access data in a contextual fashion – it shows you what you might need at the moment, or gives you database sifting means of finding/accessing it. Think Spotlight. Think “pictures from last year”. Apple has been doing all kinds of this stuff for a while in the Finder and iApps.
For those that keep hinting at how revolutionary and important it is, I’m thinking the biggie will be how easy and intuitive it is as compared to a regular computer. You’ve all seen this, right?
…now imagine your Dad with that level of efficacy on this thing, and how many fewer tech support calls you’d get from the folks – (“Click to the Finder, Dad. The Finder. The thing with all the icons and files. What is an icon? Hang on, let me hang up and shriek at the wall and pound my head to a bloody pulp for ten minutes and then I can call you back with a steady voice.”)
OK – so it’ll be easy as all get-out to use. Great. Actually, that’s great! But not earth changing for me. It’ll have utterly bitchin’ multi-touch capabilities. This is probably the place that’ll distinguish it from even Apple’s own laptops. Ah – betcha the schism between MacBook and MacBook Pro will be touchscreen interface within a year – right?
Oh yeah – and camera/s? Sure, why not. Definitely GPS, orientation sensing, etc – just like iPhone does – gotta have at LEAST the same sensor capabilities of the iPhone. Oh, and multiple simultaneous apps, too. Do they pause when you switch away? Do Widgets?
I saw a headline somewhere that said something like “Steve Jobs creates a black hole, the media pours stars into it” – and that isn’t a bad analogy – Apple/Jobs keeps an AMAZINGLY tight rein on security (ex-military security types, maybe?). Ever-body and their bruddah gets all wound up about it.
Lookee – here – gizmodo covers the issues of how the hell do you hold a simple tablet/slate/pad thing and use it for more than 30 seconds comfortably.
OK, to answer my own questions –
1.) What is it uniquely good/cool at doing? It’ll have a super easy interface. It’ll have constantly live internet connection via 3G or WiFi. 3G data is rumored to be $40/month. Lame to spend more each month on streaming bit plans – I’ve got a land line phone bill (don’t laugh, dedicated fax line), a cable bill, a cable modem bill, an iPhone bill, and now a tablet bill? Sheesh.
But now, lets say you can get one tomorrow for $1000. Or, with a 2 year data plan, for $500. Whatevah. What matters is this – do you want it? If yes, wait a week and see if still true (gotta wait for the Reality Distortion Field to disperse, the field is strongest Day Zero). Do you need it? Probably not, based on what I’m hearing. Unless a lot of content we’ve already been able to get for free online is going behind a paywall, I don’t think so.
It SOUNDS like Apple is going for the next big move in Internet evolution – that content needs to be paid for, and they are going to have the infrastructure to do it – to bring magazine and newspaper type publications back to an advertising and subscriber based income structure. This NEEDS to happen – so far, it has become VERY clear that advertising alone is not sufficient to support a full sized professional publishing effort, with professional writers, etc. (PVC notwithstanding). OK, that’s GREAT, all for it. EVEN IF that is what they are doing and they are successful at it….why does it need to ONLY be on the tablet? Possible answers:
2.)What can this do that I can’t elsewhere?
– ONE FILE ENTERS, NONE MAY LEAVE (chant in crowd ritualistically) – because that one door in (Apple controlled), no doors out (no externally accessible file system), was required to get the bootleg averse content providers to sign on. While technically the same content COULD be distributed to laptops, desktops, iPhones, and (heaven forbid) AppleTV and other set top devices, perhaps it WON’T be because of licensing issues. At least not yet. Hmm. On that basis, maybe content is EXCLUSIVE to the tablet (at least for now…until faith is built and content distributors trust the Apple ecology, and/or until a decent number of tablets have been sold).
(on that note, maybe AppleTV might get a shot in the arm – especially if the tablet has a 1280×720-ish sized display, as it is a “closed” piece of hardware with a more-trusted level of security – for instance, I can rent HD movies on my AppleTV, but not my laptop/desktop via iTunes)
OK, IF this guess is true, it is good for tablet, but bad for the overall Apple sales ecology if iPhones, AppleTV, and iTunes equipped Macs/PCs can’t access this content (or a limited portion of it) – Apple likes simple, easy, consistent, unconfusing options. Tablet only content? Suxors on this basis.
Maybe iPhones get some of the content, at smaller size obviously, maybe cheaper video this size, but it’d kinda such on that small screen. Maybe that is part of the drive, that you can try on iPhone, but not see all the benefit therefore want the bigger device?
The exclusivity factor is only of benefit for Apple and the assurance of content distrbutors worried about device security and bootlegging. For the consumer, it is a total downside – there are no technical reasons why the at least the CONTENT, but not the OS/UI, shouldn’t be available on Macs/PCs, and maybe AppleTVs as well (Hey, I have one, and want more use out of it!). Content producers desperately want to find a way to monetize, and consumers have been trained that The Web Is Free. OK, so this new device with a new model means….paying for content. I don’t think the market is going ot go for it at this point in time – “Hey! It is formatted a little better, I get to spend $500-$1000 to get it, and then pay as much as the print copy – WOOHOO! Let me get some!” Nope. The CONCEPT of a reader is great – but the tech isn’t ready yet, and here’s why I think so:
a.) Printing on paper is still dirt cheap. Publishing technology has come a long way, but I’m still AMAZED at magazine lead times, and not in a good way – come on, industry, 2-3 months for trade pubs? Really?
b.) you want a reader? Great, it needs to be better than the alternative from an overall price/functionality perspective. The functionality? I think it’ll be there. But technology is only as valid as its price point. The cost of a screen, CPU, storage, etc. – it is still too high. From what I can tell, the screen itself is a big chunk of the cost. For what this device needs to do – 10 inch multi-touch screen, CPU/GPU capable of full screen video and timely web performance, storage, etc. – for a reader to be viable, and I mean MASS MARKET viable, the price would have to be what – $200-$300 to make ANY sense? (RDF notwithstanding.) It can’t be priced anywhere close to that level – not without a bundled data plan, which pushes the overall cost into the thousands over a couple of years – THIS is a better solution than mailing a magazine, and/or logging onto a website? Maybe this is just a demo of how screwed up the publishing/distro world is right now – so worried about their failing model, that a $500 targeted delivery platform is seen as their most acceptable alternative.
Do we really need a new device and new data formats? Or can HTML5 suffice? With a dosh of PDF?
As for always connected? We are this close to having that capability already, what with WiFi hotspots (go to Austin, BTW – TONS of free WiFi everywhere – wish more cities picked up on this!!!!) – and with MiFi and other 3G based data offerings (starting at $60/month I’m told) available for the laptops everyone already has, always-on connected just isn’t a big enough advantage, unless it were wicked faster than what we’re used to. And as AT&T’s recently well publicized woes have showed us, providing ubiquitous, CONSISTENT data access to a large user base is a non-trivial understanding. The 4G/LTE rollouts aren’t there, either, to support a few million of these floating around suckin’ down full screen content, either.
3.) But it is likely to be expensive.
MacBooks start at a grand (OK, $999, but that’s quibbling). Lets be generous and say Apple cuts $100 off that price, and puts the tablet $200 below that – that’s a minimum price of $700 for this gadget. If rumors of data network subsidies are true, lets say you get a data connection for a ballpark of $50/month for a 2 year contract, and the price goes down to $400 now, but $1700 for gadget and connection over two years. Yowza! That’s pricey. And in this economy? See below for a partial list of all the Apple stuff I’ve bought and/or still own. But I don’t see myself wanting one of these, nor wanting to use my non-abundant disposable cash to get one. Lets say I did – this is such an inbetween sized gadget (allegedly – should I be saying alleged device all through this article?). And that’s the terrible thing about it. For now, it seems to be pitched as a consumer/biz casual type device – you won’t use it in meetings, you won’t do all day kinds of work on it, it is your magazine, your Sunday paper, your movie watching gadget, etc. iPhone is GREAT because it fits in our pocket, AND THEN ON TOP OF THAT does all kinds of useful stuff.
When you think back across the history of Things We Carry Around (and I’m thinking centuries worth, not the last 5 minutes), there’s Everyday stuff – at one point pocketwatches a century or more ago, in the last decade or two cellphones, a buncha keys certainly for a century or two for at least some of the population, etc. Things that are book sized? That is a subset of stuff most folks carry around, and even then, only some of the time. How often are you toting your laptop with you? Biz folks maybe to/from work, but not to every meeting, not to every lunch date, etc. This form factor just doesn’t strike me as one which lends itself to being toted around all over the place – which the proposed functionality/content of the device would need to justify its existence – ya know what I mean? If it is bigger than pocketsized, it enters a class of “it doesn’t matter how much bigger than pocketsized, it might as well be WAY bigger since I have to carry it in a bag or under my arm.”
As an aside, notice that things get sturdier over the decades, as the tech matures. First it has to work, then it should be portable, then it should be conveniently small, then it gets ruggeder as the tech/size/price allow so that it can survive a pocket drop. Everything goes through this – would you imagine dropping the first small cellphones from 5 feet onto concrete and having them survive? Hell no. But an iPhone (usually) will, albeit with some dings. Car keys can be flung 50 feet across a parking lot of concrete and survive, that is my metric of sufficiently evolved tech. Until more tech comes in, in the form of electronic key fobs, then the durability gets set back. I digress here, but I foresee the tablet being a dainty thing – and something you’re supposed to schlep around at that size, with a presumably light weight, from Apple….I don’t see it surviving a hip height fall like a book would. And for it to really BE the thing they are ghost pitching us (and you KNOW there’s an Apple PR person, hell a TEAM, shaping the dark matter of the blogosphere on this one), it really should be durable. Something you can pitch into your day bag/backpack/purse/briefcase. And I don’t think it is going to be that, based on current status of screen technology.
Something about the proposed functionality being LESS than a laptop, but being nearly the size of one (and if everyone’s guess about on open display is true, a finicky, scratchable, frail one at that), kinda kills it for me – if it doesn’t fit in your pocket, it is BIG, and needs its own carrying thing. (BTW – sudden guess – what if the screen cover/protector IS the flipover stand? Or it uses a picoprojector to project a virtual keyboard watched by that front mounted camera? But I digress…). If it is bigger than pocketable, IT DON’T MATTER MUCH HOW MUCH BIGGER – you’re into netbook/laptop territory, and that’s an entirely different category of device, with a different usage/carrying profile.
OK, I’m diving into the same category of thought again and again here, but this is all a draft-y level screed here anyway, but you get where I’m going.
To sum up this point, it is going to be somewhat pricey, and somewhat delicate/frail is my guess unless they pleasantly surprise me. Think I’m wrong? Look at iPod/iPhone design from the get-go – what is the first thing you do with a fresh-born iThing? Put it in a &$*^#^$$ case so it doesn’t get mutilated by the environment. The delicate, almost sensual raw-ness, vulnerability of it, is part of the design draw I think – on purpose. Another aside.
OVERALL – unless Steve surprises me (and go for it Steve!), I think this thing is going to be Segway 2010. Not Segway 2.0, just this year’s version of it. AppleTV got rolled out, but we all knew (OK, everybody but me and the other insta-leapers) not a Big Deal**. Nobody expected that to drive the stock up in a major way. *** Not the case this time! The stock has run up a BUNCH in the last 6 plus months, and it can’t all be due to iPhone (although Apple is now an iPhone company – phones make more money than computers. (Also, Final Cut Pro users, note how TINY a percentage of income software is – ALL software. We Are Not The Priority. Remember that!).
IF this is a $500-$1000 device with killer multi-touch UI, runs iPhone apps, has exclusive content distribution for “print” media and additional video content, with a new store for said content, has WiFi with 3G option for $50ish/month in a 10-11 inch tablet form factor…this is a niche play. iPod was massively successful because it had an excellent user interface/user experience, a well integrated management software with (eventually) a good online store as an easy way to buy, and oh yeah – it let you leverage your one metric *$$load of content you already had on your existing CDs and downloaded freebie music. iPhone rocked because it was a WAY better phone, let you bring your music along on a device that you’d already be carrying in your pocket (one pocket thing, not ANOTHER pocket thing) with the above iPod advantages, and once established, the App thing added a huge over level of convenience and usability.
OK, Apple Tablet (iPad, iSlate, but NOT iTablet – only one syllable after the “i”, thankyewverrahmuch) – the big question for you – WHERE IS THE THING WE GET TO LEVERAGE FROM BEFORE ONTO YOU?
APPS – We can bring over iPhone apps for those who’ve already bought in, but then how much unique advantage is there? OK, there’s 100,000 apps, that IS awesome. And if we can fire’em up like Widgets, all the better. But that isn’t a unique advantage.
…and then I spent another hour after this, writing some of the best stuff on a damn good roll, just like I used to do in the HD for Indies days. Then the dog ate my homework when I hit update, and the publishing system timed out and I lost it all. I am so frustratedly heartbroken by this I’m not gonna retype it. Suffice it so say:
-all the possible new features? Not enough to make me want to pay $500 for another gadget – not in this economy
-but yo, Steve? Feel free to prove me wrong! Please.
* Mike’s Apple purchases: writing this on a Mac Pro on an Apple 30″ monitor, sitting next to a Quad G5 attached to an Apple 24″ display. They sit next to two G5’s, gathering dust at my feet. Another G5 is across town, loaned out to a friend to edit a music video we shot…last…year. Ahem. Also elsewhere is my MacBook, sitting at the girlfriend’s house where it was driving a 24″ display as an overpriced DVD player. On the counter top is an iPod Nano, an iPod Mini, and my iPhone 3GS. Detecting a theme here? My sister has my first gen iPhone, my Mom has my beloved 12″ Powerbook G4, and in the past I’ve owned I don’t want to think about how many Power Macs, Quadras, IIci’s, etc., not to mention 3rd party periperhaps and accessories.
**(For the record, I like and use mine everyday, but also read about the other devices that do So Much More, and I know why Apple will never add live TV, other format support, DVR capabilities, etc. to it – eats at their iTunes Economy.)
***although that is why I jumped into Apple stock a second time (first time in the 90s) – I saw audio streaming on the Airport Express and extrapolated from there, and was wrong about the market impact of the eventual device, the AppleTV. However, iTunes, iPods, and iPhones conveniently came along and Saved The Day. It doesn’t matter if you bought for the wrong reasons, as long as you bought before it went up! Winning by accident still counts. Yes, I’m a nerd.
OK, so I’m guessing the stock will get a pop when Steve utters the word “tablet,”, and after the RDF wears off, and the market realizes not everyone is going to rush out and get one of these things, the stock will slump back, lower than the 206-ish it is at the moment. How much slump? Depends on how well iPhones sell. And they won’t announce a Verizon iPhone today, even if they had it ready to go – why dilute the news bang of the tablet? And doesn’t AT&T still have a year or more left on their exclusive deal with Apple? Wasn’t it a 4 year thing? Does Apple have a buyout/buyaway clause? Dunno…
Post-launch thoughts here:
Follow up thoughts here: