Apple Tablet, Little More Than A Big iPod?

With Apple's new tablet computer making the jump from rumor to accepted "truth," it's time think about the applications it might support. In short: What are we supposed to do with a netbook-sized iPod touch?

I am especially wondering whether it will be useful for business applications or just a games and entertainment device. I am thinking the latter, but am open to it being a broader platform than prevailing wisdom suggests.

This is the first of a two-part post, the second will look at current business apps that could be upsized for the rumored tablet's big screen

First, a caveat: I am going with prevailing thought that the tablet will be more iPod than MacBook, in that it will have an on-screen keyboard rather than a physical one. The best reports talk about a 10-inch diagonal screen on something that sounds otherwise like an iPod touch, connected to the world via Wi-Fi.

If the tablet has a real keyboard, it becomes a netbook competitor and will render most of this column obsolete. Such a machine, properly done, has obvious business app potential. It's just not what it sounds like Apple is planning to release.

My guess is the on-screen keyboard will be zoomable, in that it will be able to grow or shrink for the convenience of users. I am trying to imagine how a user might hold such a large device in one or both hands while typing on it with one or more fingers (or two thumbs).

Weight and balance will matter, but trying to imagine using just the screen of my Acer netbook as the whole computer way concerns me. It's hard to hold and type on the screen at the same time. Makes me wonder how useful the new Apple device will be for typing-intensive applications.

If it's hard to type on, the device will be limited to primary use as a media player and games device, which may be enough for market success but would be a letdown in terms of functionality for both personal and business applications.

Primary apps will, of course, be rented movies and video content and, presumably, the new hyper record albums that Apple is working on, perhaps as a consolation for what the iTunes store has done to music sales generally.

Current iPod applications would look pretty silly on a big screen, though I suppose you could turn the device sideways an run them expanded in size to fit the giant--by iPod standards--screen. Not very interesting, but possible. Add a remote control, however, and you'd be able to scroll from a distance.

Web browsing and web-based applications will benefit from the larger screen, saving users all the zooming, unzooming, and scrolling that today makes iPhones and iPods less than perfect devices for viewing sites not optimized for their small screens.

A 10-inch iPod has obvious potential as a gaming platform, though graphic performance might be an issue. I am presuming Apple will optimize the device for games and video, but doing so may limit battery life.

The device is likely to be a competitor for Amazon's Kindle e-book reader, but isn't likely to match the Kindle's battery life. It's the trade-off for a hi-def color screen vs. Kindle's 16 shades of gray.

I can't imagine Apple matching Amazon's claim that its users "read for days without recharging."

Which raises the question: Will the new Apple mediapad mostly be used off the battery or while still tethered to electric power? Will battery life be acceptable, if just barely, to watch a few movies or would it be better to stay connected most of the time? Will a USB connection be able to fully power the unit while it's being used?

Cost is another issue. Most rumors come with an $800 pricetag attached, which seems to be what people think the device is worth plus the "Apple tax" we are used to paying. Such pricing, however, may be too rich for many consumers' wallets.

I am presuming Apple will have solved these potential issues, given the company isn't known for releasing crippled products. Still, these issues concern me, and likely will until Apple (presumably) releases the device this Fall.

Want a different opinion? Michael Scalisi says the new tablet will be a dog. I don't agree, but there's the link. Decide for yourself.

Industry veteran David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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