Apple Innovation Software & Hardware Technology

Mac Tablet drawing closer?

Some rumours go through a transformation and become myth. Such tech’ rumours can persist beyond redoubtable and furious denials. The idea of a Mac Tablet computer has a certain allure, a luster even. Not helping matters is Apple saying one thing yet doing something else…

Adding grist to the oft-cranked rumour mill is TechCrunch, who speak of sources working on Mac Tablet:

“One of Apple’s contract manufacturers, Asus, is working on a Mac tablet, … It is not clear if this is going to be a major product, when it will be available, or whether this is just a prototype for now.”

Let’s not forget, Steve Jobs himself scotched the idea of a Mac Tablet:

“[Steve Jobs] said, tablet computers were not a big enough market for Apple to spend its limited resources chasing. And even if the market grew, it would not reach a size to be of interest. The form factor was all wrong. Apple was more interested in defining markets than trying to catch other companies that were busy trying to create a market for questionable products.”

But things change; such as minds, markets and hardware, all of which are key players in the running saga of the Mac Tablet.

Newton is dead! Long live the iPhone!

For whatever reasons, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he killed off the Newton. But just what did Jobs kill? Just the name, the spirit or the technology?

Given that the Newton was the pet project of John Sculley — the very man Steve Jobs hired and who was then instrumental in removing him from Apple — that might offer some telling details.

So the Newton name my linger in the limbo of infamy & treachery for Jobs, but the pursuit of an iconic technology ideal lives on in the iPhone.

Picking up where Apple left off is Jeff Han, a man with a remarkable grasp for touch sensitive technologies, who came to the fore when Apple were rumoured to be close to delivering the iPhone.

More recently, the iPod Touch — divorced of phone smarts — brought big(ger) screen viewing and iPhone tactility to our music and video collections.

Could the iPod Touch be a wonderfully conceived experiment? Could the usability research, the customer feedback and suggestions all be living survey conducted on behalf of an Apple who are looking upon the touch display market with keener eyes?

Getting to grips with touch screen technology

I’m sure Apple are very pleased with their touch screen technology, and are no doubt eager to make more use, where applicable and appropriate. And that’s the key thing to keep in mind.

I made the mistake of sharing my sensible and well-reasoned opinions in a Digg comment about an Apple article a while back. Apparently, we’re not allowed to say anything even approaching negative about Apple on Digg, so they say.

As I remember, the article was about a ‘rumoured’ MacBook Pro sporting a touch display. I’ve seen such things before in the guise of a Windows-based laptop PC, I’m sure other have, so I’ve little doubt Apple could do the same.

However, the problem with this particular rumour was that the display would support several levels of pressure. Now that is different, and here’s where the idea comes unhinged .. quite literally.

If you have a laptop computer, then you’ll know you can’t exert too much pressure on the screen without pushing it back. Since you can only push the display so far back, to get at those lower layers of pressure sensitivity, you pressing harder would probably strain or even break the back hinges on the display.

Of, course, my loutish and abusively negative logic was about as welcome as a fart in an elevator.

The point is, no matter how much you like the idea of a thing, novel uses aside, practicalities are the great leveler of even the greatest ideas, novel or monumental.

So scaled up uses of multi-touch and pressure touch displays are probably limited to tablet computers, or those computers with the swivel screens that fold down over the keyboard.

All of which forms an interesting segue to my next question…

Who would buy a Mac Tablet?

… Who exactly would Apple be pitching a Mac Tablet at? Apple’s main markets are creative, home and the sciences. In terms of data usage, there’s nothing in them any more. Home users are just as likely to be flinging multi-gigabyte files around as the scientist or senior designer.

So despite Steve Job’s aforementioned protestations, things have changed — Apple now use Intel for slimmer / cooler / smaller devices and wireless connectivity is much more accommodating.

And why not have a tilt at the business market, with a touch-ready version of Apple iWork, for example? Imagine being stood at the lectern, running your presentation from a Mac Tablet. Or in class, literally taking notes.

In terms of hardware and usage, Apple could easily please a lot of people with a touch screen Mac, sporting a decent wireless connection. They could even make the thing a ‘dumb terminal‘, by dropping the hard drive, making their Mac Tablet an adjunct to the home or office Mac.

And with something sporting multi-touch technology, a Mac Tablet would be ideal in a school environment, too:

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

Making collaborative activities a truly shared experience would probably give rise to an entirely new class of application, not limited to schools and education but encompassing the whole spectrum of markets.

OK, so a Mac Tablet isn’t set in stone just yet, but in light of the success of the iPhone, it’s certainly within touching distance…

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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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