Monday, October 05, 2009

iDon't get the hype

Apple may or may not at some point come out with a tablet computer. So what? Maybe Steve Jobs is playing chess while I'm playing checkers, but I just can't see virtually any tablet device that would be more than a niche device. Sure, tablets are useful in some industrial and commercial settings, but that's never been Apple's game. Apple plays consumer ball nowadays - along with their traditional high-end and creative pro markets. Here's the easiest questions to ask in order to figure out if a tablet computer has a place in the consumer market or not:

• What's faster, typing or writing (natural language, not some weird variation like Palm's old Graffiti input)?
• What's faster, easier, and more discreet to do in public, typing or speaking?
• Assuming a tablet computer could have easy, fast input and could run acceptably long on a charge, where do you stow it when it's not in use?
• Do you cry when a tablet computer falls down and breaks? Or do you just curse a couple of times and then go buy a replacement?
• Can it be cheap and rugged enough to not worry about?

Of course, Apple already knows how to make a reasonably rugged device that has good battery life, runs a desktop OS, and can perform the most needed functions of most desktop computers. In fact, it's called the iPhone. And it sells a hundred for every likely iTablet sale. Now, I could be completely full of nonsense here, but I just don't see a way for Apple to build a "tablet" computer that can fit my criteria above and still be cheap enough to sell to the mass market.

What I do foresee (maybe even as early as tomorrow) is a scaled-down version of the MacBook that can be sold at a $700 or so price point. That's likely to come - Apple won't play in the low-margin netbook space per se, but they'll provide a barebones laptop for people looking to trade up. They will keep driving the cost down on their consumer desktops, too - it's OK, because they make so much cash on iPhones that they can afford to shave the margins a little on the consumer systems. I see the big marketshare push starting soon. The potential isn't there to break Windows, but there's no reason that Apple can't have a happy, profitable 20-25% of the marketplace. It's more do-able now than it has been in years.

But there ain't no iTablet in that picture, and I doubt there will be.