It's in the Bag! The Apple Tablet Computing Device

iPod Tablet.pngIn the past 25 years, the personal computing revolution has evolved from tethered (desktop) to luggable (portable) to joined-at-the-hip (mobile).

Via the iPhone Platform (including iPod Touch), Apple has set the bar for mobile computing by seamlessly integrating computation, communications, and media across hardware, software, and service layers.

No less integral, Apple has significantly evolved ecosystem development models by cobbling together developer tools, media relationships, marketplace/e-wallet functions, one-click software distribution, explicit platform governance, and a simple, but compelling, approach to sharing revenue with developers.

Horse-Buggy.jpgBut, the pièce de résistance has been a touch, tilt, sensor, and virtual keyboard-based user interaction model that has rendered the traditional physical keyboard plus WIMP-based model (i.e., windows, icons, menus, and pointing device) as so last century, the proverbial horse-and-buggy to Apple’s Model T.

The end result is that the iPhone has become the first truly personal computer; more personal to its owners than the PC ever was, a truth that bubbles to the top again and again when you talk to the 50M (combined) iPhone and iPod Touch owners.

Thus, the core thesis of this article is two-fold. One, that while Apple remains committed to cultivating its position in the legacy desktop /portable segment via the Mac, they understand that they will never be the leader of the PC market.

Two, given their dominance in mobile computing platforms, Apple will expand upon their iPhone strategy by attacking an “undefended hill” (an HP axiom) that’s less hospitable to desktops/portables; namely, the bag-carrying consumer (think: purses, backpacks, briefcases, and the like).

The Bag-able Device: from Living Room to Classroom, Café to Bus
backpack.jpgFirst, a market-sizing question. How many tens of millions of people carry a bag wherever they go that is large enough to accommodate a bookish-sized device?

From a sniff test, would there be room for a really “phat” version of the iPod Touch in your backpack? Your kid’s? Would you make room?

Before answering, imagine that you’re kicking back on the couch, with a cappuccino in one hand and a Tablet in the other. After all, this is a device that is recline-able in the sense that you can comfortably use it from any position that suits you (it’s neither overly bulky or hot, and input operations can be performed from any angle you desire).

Moreover, owing to its relative absence of moving parts and exposed interfaces, the Tablet is also slob-friendly, a euphemism for saying that it’s not the end of the world if you are eating pizza while using it (less susceptibility to spills, sauces and greasy fingers).

eating-pizza.jpgIn turn, this means that it’s kid-friendly since the dearth of moving parts also means fewer to break. On top of this, Apple’s governance model provides a more direct path for parental controls on what types of apps can be used, and for how long.

Taking the Tablet out of your bag, you instantly notice that this is a device that can support multiple modalities in a robust fashion. A bigger screen means truer multi-touch, richer interaction possibilities, and a personal home theater experience that simply rocks (especially, when wearing decent headphones). Plus, as iPhone has proven, this is no underpowered computing device. Skype me? Sure. Video chat? In a snap. Day planner? C’mon!

Now, imagine iPhone’s current gaming support scaling up to this device (not to mention the other two thirds of the 100K-app-strong App Store).

(Sidebar: I expect a straightforward upgrade path for developers to port their iPhone Apps to also run on the Tablet, offering tremendous platform leverage to the estimated 120K iPhone App developers.)

Moreover, given their iTunes foothold, how much do you want to bet that, coincident to the Tablet launch, Apple pursues a TV 3.0 play (aka, TV Everywhere) powered by a subscription service for music, movies and TV programming? In one fell swoop, the leverage of a TV 3.0 play could be extended not only to the Tablet, but to the Mac, iPhone, iPod, and Apple TV as well.

Who else can match that kind of end-to-end firepower, especially in light of Apple’s announcement that the iTunes/App Store Universe is backed by 100M active credit card-backed user accounts?

That’s also why Apple rebooting the book marketplace is such a given from where I sit (i.e., look out, Kindle).

A final note: while businesses/enterprises have been less central to the iPhone story to date, I think that the Tablet is a device that is tailor-made for verticals and VAR (value added reseller) channels, with Education, Health Care, Retail, and Field Support as obvious beachheads.

Flies in the Ointment: Avoiding the Tyranny of the Either/Or
fly-in-the-ointment.pngSo what could go wrong? Apple’s challenge is to ensure that consumers never feel like they are being forced to make a binary Either/Or decision between an iPhone, an iPod Touch, a Tablet, and of course, a MacBook.

Under the hood, managing this one touches upon core strategic decisions about form-factors, runtime capabilities, and functional symmetries/asymmetries between the different Apple device offerings (read more about Apple’s coming Hardware/Software Matrix decisions).

At the same time, some of this is market segmentation thinking, and allowing consumers to choose the level of integration, the type of computing model, and the depth of Apple-centric leverage that makes most sense for them.

Why? Because Apple’s overriding goal is to grow their portion of the consumer’s communications, media, entertainment ,and Engagement Time online, and in concert, their Portion of Spend for those services.

To be clear, though, Apple has already proven that they can navigate this one with the release of iPhone, and the related segmenting decisions relative to iPod Touch and iPod (if anything, the net-out has been a total Halo Effect). Hence, I am optimistic that not only will they successfully navigate this path with the Tablet, but that they have been planning for this transition for a long, long time.

As such, for Apple, a successful Tablet launch is not merely a fuzzy ambition, but rather, it’s in the bag.

Related Posts:

  1. Rebooting the Book: One Apple iPad Tablet at a Time
  2. Apple, the ‘Boomer’ Tablet and the Matrix
  3. Touch Traveler: London, Paris and only an iPod Touch

tags: , , , ,
  • personne

    Yeah, it’ll be great, a Mac Pro for my professional needs.. Macbook for couch and travel computing.. an iMac for casual desktop computing.. Mac mini for media, ipod for gym music listening, iphone for light travel, and now my great Apple Tablet for book reading. It’s the future, one choice, capacitor, and loss of freedom at a time, I just hope they can get that big glowing Apple logo working power efficiently.

    Cripes, where’s AGPL, CC in all this, the really interesting things that are happening on top of commodity hardware and operating facilities.

  • @personne, but what apple’s doing is the antithesis of commodity hardware and operating facilities, right? Not to say that that’s the only way, to be sure.

  • bowerbird

    more itablet linkbait for pageviews? isn’t that getting old?


  • @bowerbird, just wait until the actual device gets released. ;-)

    side quip: dissing EVERY post. Isn’t that getting old? Sorry, that’s a joke.

  • bowerbird

    mark said:
    > side quip: dissing EVERY post. Isn’t that getting old?
    > Sorry, that’s a joke.

    no need to apologize. it was actually kind of funny. :+)


  • Jay

    Do you really need to sign your post when your name is printed directly above it? Though I guess it does make a nice sandwich…


  • @Jay, not sure if you are referring to bowerbird or me, but I for one, like the name signing as it feels more letter like and less impersonal. Old school, I guess.

  • Jay

    Well, considering bowerbird is the only one actually signing his posts, I was refering to him. However, since I’ve decided to give it a go, I guess I could be retroactively addressing what would then be my future self, though if that were the case I wouldn’t yet have need or notion to reference myself, as I would be completely unaware of my future self’s signing actions and would thus… Oh no! Paradox!


  • @Jay, somewhere out in the universe a self-referring Jay steps on the time-space continuum and implodes. :-)

  • Sean

    Apple is about to make the Windows PC obsolete.

  • personne

    No, I don’t think what Apple is doing is the antithesis of commodity. They are very far from any “think different” phase. Like every other company, they surf fundamental inventions and viable hardware combinations and formulate products based on their positioning. They hold off on innovations as long as they can, try to hoard or create “gated” versions of what’s already out there, and above all try to create a perception of something special, meanwhile there is no real difference in functional capability, and a lot of the hype over them just seems like divisive misguided buzz.

    I’m not faulting Apple and will readily admit they’ve pushed the envelope and industry in good integrated design, but I don’t think they’ve invented anything – we’d be using clunkier handhelds but they’d still be internet connected, and in terms of big trends they’re just not that interesting.

    Unfortunately looking around today, many company’s idea of ‘design’ is still to put plastic chrome finish on their new models. Apple is about the only company, aside from Nintendo, who has very consistently well designed gear from the hardware to the software, but Apple carries their fetish too far in every instance, and choose artificial limitations on behalf of their consumers.

    Windows does take a lot of the wind out of my arguments, since it’s such an awful OS (I’m very happy with Ubuntu on a T400S) so I hope with Windows 7, which is supposed to be better, the shift in the industry can turn to more interesting competitive factors and the press can focus on something more interesting than Apple’s latest niche solution, the iTablet.

    I really don’t trust Apple at all, considering how they lost out in the clone wars with their inability to share. Clearly their mentality is to try to own markets, couple with their media buying strategies that don’t have much to do with -computing-. Every time I walk into a room full of glowing Apple logos it gives me a sense of what the world would be like with less competition.

  • @personne, your arguments are pretty reasoned, and I certainly don’t disagree with the history. some of what you say, though, implies that what apple is doing is not so much innovation as that what little they do, sucks so much less than everyone else.

    I guess I would counter that somewhat by saying that the mobile device industry before iphone was laughably bad. the apps were few, the internet “experience” was crap, the carriers leeched anything remotely creative out of the equation and developers spent most of their R&D on supporting 30 variants of mobile handset/carrier combos.

    My argument thus is that very little of innovation is the gee whiz bang variety, and most of it is is the harder work of making the piece parts work together elegantly, to create user experiences that are intuitive and engagement, creating an ecosystem to seeds diversity. To frame how hard that one is, in tech, I think that only Google, Apple and Amazon (yes, very different philosophies, businesses and strategies) stand out as true bellwethers.

    Who do you see as similarly compelling?

    Appreciate the thoughts, btw.

  • @Sean, I am a happy Mac owner, but that train has left the station (in terms of real market dominance), plus Windows 7 sucks just enough less that less converts likely to toggle than during Vista. That said, Mac can continue to grow market share.

  • personne

    PCs today win in the diversity of their forms. In notebooks you can get a cheap minimal netbook or an overloaded Blue Ray or dual screen beast – not to mention the slates, convertibles, etc. – thousands of models outside what Apple offers. None have great hardware and OS integration, what the PC vendor can add is often referred to as “crapware,” but you can find exactly what you’re looking for hardware wise compared to the three Macbook models.

    But I’m grateful for the presence of Apple, because they have pushed the envelope far beyond what any PC manufacturer has still proven itself capable of, really great hardware design (but with those stupid ideological choices when they push things too far). Software, I’m not convinced, I love my dear Mac friends with that expression on their faces when windows unexpectedly go flying everywhere, or they have to try to remember how to do a screen capture. But I guess it’s better somehow, even though they’re just surfing the web using Firefox and creating office docs, they can sometimes pull out a slick special effect that dazzles their audience.

    It is a commodity. I see no reason why Nintendo won’t be the predominant hardware manufacturer in some years, running an open source suite, because there’s nothing unique about the proprietary platforms unless you’re running a specialized app, most commonly Photoshop (Windows first). Which I hope due to the world’s participation will become an anomaly. (I know some people don’t, it is divisive).

    The only important thing on mobile devices is good Internet, specifically Web access. Before the iPhone, we had a number of devices out there that were in fact pretty crappy, though the end point seemed obvious. We can’t say what things would have been without Apple. Maybe Mozilla would have stepped in, though I suspect it would have been bad for a while since pretty much all companies are awesomely incapable of balancing good design and functionality.

    But today, competition is tough and there’s a lot of greatness, if I had to choose among the good quality Internet devices out there, I’d say the ones that are most interesting are those that approach common human needs on the instinct it’s worthy to do so openly, and not focus on shiny gated communities.

  • personne

    btw what I mean is my macbook pro’s screen never tilted back far enough to be comfortable. I guess it wasn’t designed for tall people. The latch was too delicate, more than once it opened at the wrong time. Glad I never got sucked into the Macbook Air because I visit too many random institutions that require wired Internet. I can’t imagine checking the flap to see if there’s an RJ45, nope, just one USB, shoulda brought that dongle.

    Nearly as comical as trying to do random stuff on a Windows PC, which is why computing should and will become a commodity experience, heavily based on the Net, usable from your game system, mobile or specialized computer. Preferably on a device with an alert LED for messages, a consistent way to access app settings, and multitask, like Android devices, not the iPhone.

  • I have a sneaking feeling that with the introduction of the iTable, there will also be a slew of stylish carrying products. Perhaps the reintroduction of the man-bag?

  • bowerbird

    when apple does deliver an itablet,
    it will be when apple decides to do it,
    not when rumor-mongers pressure apple.

    but when apple does deliver an itablet,
    it will revolutionize the product-space,
    and everyone else will fall in line behind.

    and the linux nerds will still _insist_ —
    loudly! — that apple did no innovation,
    even as they themselves fall in line behind.

    not sure who’s more irritating/amusing,
    the rumor-mongers or the linux nerds…


  • personne

    bowerbird, that’s cute, though you could go directly ad hominem for more efficiency.

    Linux and UNIX have always been their own thing. There’s nothing that copies Apple in any of it, some apps copy eg iTunes but I don’t use them. They did put up a standard WIMPy interface (Gnome or KDE in the mainstream) but that’s not where it’s at. Today The Linux (X) system has advantages including a full 3D interface with good font scaling that works in all apps. One day Apple will have cross app and system app updating and it will be ‘free’ once all general apps have been commoditized and subsumed.

    I don’t use any Apple gear side from an Airport Express nor do I need to for my professional and personal needs.

    I didn’t emphasize Linux because I don’t think it really matters, all the functionality is a commodity, it’s the integrated experience that counts and that’s where Apple excels and the open source crowd fails. In two years these devices will be completely solid state aside from the keyboard, there will be a plateau of capability and Apple will release low cost devices for the masses. I think they’ll clean up. My only desire is to make sure competition remains, as I stated it could just as easily come from your Nintendo home computer and mobile pal.

  • @personne, I have blogged on the “open” meme previously in a post called ‘Android vs. iPhone: Why Openness May Not Be Best’ The net out of the post is that openness is just an attribute, like an ingredient, and customers buy outcomes not attributes, which is why Apple is capturing the high margin dollars these days. They deliver superior outcomes.

    It’s akin to saying all restaurants are alike. They use commodity ingredients, some better quality, some lesser quality but essentially commodity ingredients. What makes a restaurant a restaurant is the recipes, the execution of the recipes and the overall dining experience.

    That’s why I scratch my head when listening to the “all you need is a web browser” crowd, as while they are correct in the abstract, in practice, we’re still not there, and that argument is only ~15 years and running.

    Again, based on commodity logic, the iPod should have been co-opted long ago. Alas, it hasn’t. This stuff, especially where hardware-software-service integration involved, is harder than it looks to execute.


  • @Steve, totally agree, and good call. Apple and their partners have made book on $2B accessories market for iPod/iPhone. What I keep waiting to see is a SOFTWARE-enabled hardware accessories market take off (think home blood pressure vitals checking kit), the support of which is baked into the iPhone platform. Thanks for the thoughts.

  • @bowerbird, you managed to diss both personne and me in the same comment. that’s the very difficult 7-10 split. ;-)

  • bowerbird

    it’s not my intention to diss any people at all…
    i always separate the person from the position.


  • @bowerbird, fair distinction. I was just ribbing you, anyway. cheers.

  • I’ve been anticipating the release of Apple’s tablet for 6 months now. I think it is a brilliant idea. A perfect device for the living room table to control my TV, and other entertainment devices through one central touch screen device.

    I created this poll about this article:

    Are you thinking about buying an Apple Tablet?


  • monopole

    Astounding! In the past few weeks Steve Jobs introduced the ultimate form factor, transcended publishing in a fashion that relegates Gutenberg to a marginal role, and created a new market that will easily transcend all of computing. Of course a bunch of Chinese companies like Archos and SmartQ rushed out cheap knockoffs. Most remarkably, he hasn’t shipped a damn thing! Hasn’t even revealed a single detail!

    It’s just like when Apple obsoleted TV overnight with the release of Apple TV, which is now so ubiquitous. Or when the ROCKR replaced all other forms of telephone.

    I mean, could we hold off on the breathless worship until we actually see the damn thing and, you know, evaluate it in comparison with other products?

  • @monopole, I think the difference between Apple TV and Tablet is that there is a already a PROVEN reference feature set, application base, marketplace and engaged developer ecosystem on iPod Touch and iPhone so it’s not like Tablet needs to solve a new problem to be successful — although that said, I expect that Touch is baseline and Tablet will build on that.

    That said, the underlying pushback on so much press on an unannounced, unreleased product is TOTALLY fair.

  • TimM

    I se two problems with a tablet. This much glass will not withstand a fall (even a short one) and no will pay another monthly service fee. I assume this has a built in WWAN, we know that as carriers model data traffic they are discovering that they are spectrum limited. Just look at AT&T conundrum, they succeeded too well in hooking us on iPhone surfing.

    I really don’t even see WiMax being cheap enough to create a market for a lightly used secondary device.The book reader model of building in the cost of the data in the book is good, but is the tablet a book reader? Is that the revenue model?

  • Mark Sigal

    @TimM, the glass part is a real issue (great point!), as I have dropped my iPod Touch on the floor countless times, and have a tiny crack. To your point, a bigger face has more surface to support, and the use case I envision – people reading and watching video while riding on a bus to work, is a recipe for dropped devices. Apple has to have anticipated same, but I don’t know the answer. As to the carrier issue, I see two forks on this one. One, Wi-Fi, where you are not dealing with carrier. That is use case for iPod Touch, ad 20M devices suggests high demand for non-carrier offering. Two, is that carriers will increasingly focus on trying to get an account holder to have multiple devices under same account, ala family plan. This is also logical back door into Verizon since they could sell me a Blackberry Tour (my current mobile phone), and then upgrade my account to allow data only on Tablet. Me personally, I would pay under $10/month on top of my current account to have benefit of ubiquitous access, but not $30/month. Thanks for the thoughts.

  • Lynda Hamilt
  • xemo

    if this isn’t good what other is..?