Apple iPad Destined to Be Wearable Tablet?

If the reaction to my "Linux alternatives to the Apple iPad" story is any indicator, there are plenty of people who want an iPad. They also have some concerns about the iPad, such as how easy it will or won't be to use this large hardcover-sized tablet. I don't see that as a big potential problem, but it looks to me like Apple is working on an answer for it anyway: the wearable iPad.

Apple just hired a senior engineer to work on wearable computers. I can easily see people buying into a wearable iPad. You'd hook the computer on your belt and use an iPad Touch-sized device for its interface and a Bluetooth-enabled eye and ear piece for sound and video. Tah-dah! Instant Mac Borg!

Actually, I'm quite serious. The iPad is primarily an entertainment device requiring relatively little interaction from its user — so why not put it on your belt and use a wired or wireless connection to hook up an eyepiece and earphones to watch a movie as you go for a run?

There's nothing technically hard about this. Companies like Charmed Technology and Xybernaut were producing wearable computers as far back as the 1990s. I used and rather liked them.

What kept them from ever becoming popular was a combination of problems. These early wearable computers were too heavy, their battery life tended to be poor, the interface was too much of a pain for people to learn, and they never managed to nail down even a vertical market, never mind a mass market.

That was then; this is now. The iPad weighs in one and a half pounds. That's nothing. You could tie one to your belt and, while its size would be annoying, I doubt you'd notice the weight. Get rid of the display, and you've got something that could easily fit on your belt, in your purse, or even in a large pocket.

Apple claims that the iPad will have a ten-hour battery life even when using Wi-Fi. That sounds optimistic to me, but even if it's only six to eight hours, that still more than good enough to knock battery life out as a problem.

As for the interface, we already know that people are quite happy using the iPhone/iPod touch interface for light use. I know some people (not me) who actually manage to write documents on their iPhones, so clearly the interface won't be a problem.

As for the market, we already know that people are clamoring to buy iPads. Indeed, it seems Apple has limited iPad sales to two for a customer. Take all that and tell me that you can't see a wearable iPad release say in 2011. I can — in fact, I'd say it's a sure thing. And if for some reason Apple doesn't, there are lots of Linux device manufacturers already working on iPad-like devices that will be happy to make wearable, do-it-all entertainment units.

After that, why not a wearable Mac or Linux PC? We've already had wearable Linux and Windows PCs, but those early models had all the problems I listed earlier. In 2010, it's a different story. We may not have flying cars, but we can certainly have wearable computers.

We already know that Asus is looking into running Google's Linux-based Chrome OS on wearable PCs. Who knows: in 2020, we may look back and see that iPads and tablet computers were only a brief rest stop on the way to wearable entertainment devices and computers.

This story, "Apple iPad Destined to Be Wearable Tablet?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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