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Apple Mac Tablet for the rest of us, Part 2

an image of an artists impression of a possible Apple Mac TabletSo Apple go and release the Mac Tablet. What kind animal would the Mac Tablet be?

When I previously talked about the needs behind the Windows Tablet PC and the problems it solves, I don’t see those needs or problem-solving ideas being anything like what Apple might have in mind. Specifically, I don’t see Apple deliberately going after the same market.

I think that when Apple has had cause to consider what a tablet PC of theirs might do, they have something very different in mind.

So let’s start again, only this time from Apple’s point of view: what’s the need?

Something utilitarian and something quite broad. Probably broader than what Microsoft has in mind for their tablet PC.

Whereas we see Microsoft chasing the ‘corridor warrior’ with their Windows XP Tablet Edition PC, which speaks very specifically of a business environment, Apple would instead be looking for something that fulfills many roles across the three markets they occupy and do well in: home, education and creative.

But how? Well, that’s where we now talk about the problems such a device would solve. And, might also hint at some other reason for Apple choosing to move to the Intel processor architecture.

First and foremost, Intel processors are cheaper and use a lot less energy (and by extension, produce less heat) than comparable processors, such as those from the likes of IBM and Motorola.

This allows Apple to explore all kinds of possibilities, possibilities not previously open to them.

What sets Apple apart from the other guys is the visual nature of their products, especially their software offerings. Case in point, Mac OS X.

It’s visuals, windowing and menu systems help OS X stand apart from other operating systems, including the recently released Windows Vista.

So rather than do what Microsoft did and just adapt largely pre-existing software to a tablet interface, I see Apple conjuring up some very specific software to help position the Mac Tablet as an out-and-out tablet system that specifically uses some stylus input device, for handwriting and hand illustrations.

And given the freakishly persnickety nature of Steve Jobs, this technology had better work! But then Apple has a good start, what with the Apple Newton under their belt.

Giving the finger to touch screens

The number of ways of interacting with a touch screen device can be counted on one hand .. or one finger, even! This is clearly a wasted opportunity.

Now, some months ago, I happened upon a very interesting research document entitled: “Multi-Touch Interaction Research” by Jeff Han.

The mini synopsis – while sounding typically dry and academically formal – does pretty much cover the idea: “Bi-manual, multi-point, and multi-user interactions on a graphical interaction surface.”

Almost immediately, I see someone writing a copy of Hungry Hippos for pre-schools, just to run on an Apple Tablet!

I would very much recommend watching the included video clips, which are something of an eye-opener. In fact, Apple has identified the same opening in the touch screen interface for themselves:

“A filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office made on May 6, 2004 and published for the first time on Thursday describes a ‘multipoint touchscreen’ that relates to ‘a touch screen capable of sensing multiple points at the same time.’”

So here is evidence of Apple taking the ideas in & around touch screen devices and consolidating their thinking into legal form.

This isn’t always an indication of an imminent release of a product. So while it’s encouraging to see such a filing as evidence, such things aren’t always a statement of intent.

This might just be evidence of Apple protecting their good work. But it does provide a fascinating insight into their thinking.

However, the good work by Jeff Han is eerily similar to the patent by Apple, as this excerpt from the patent will attest:

“The touch screen shown herein is configured to recognize multiple touch events that occur at different locations on the touch sensitive surface of the touch screen at the same time,”

Taken from the Jeff Han article:

“Our technique is force-sensitive, and provides unprecedented resolution and scalability, allowing us to create sophisticated multi-point widgets for applications large enough to accommodate both hands and multiple users.”

As well as click & drag you also have varying levels of pressure sensitivity just like an art tablet.

Once you let your mind run free with the idea of ‘multi-point, and multi-user interactions’, the possibilities are truly endless.

OK, so we can see that a possible Mac Tablet could be used for a ton of different stuff, but would it appeal to everyone in Apple’s core markets? I think I can answer that question .. but you’ll just have to wait until next time, won’t you?

Part 1, 2, 3

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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