Tablet PC Once Dissed by Steve Jobs. What's Changed?

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Though he's now said to be overseeing development of the fabled Apple tablet, Steve Jobs reportedly questioned whether the device was good for anything but surfing the Web from the toilet.

That's according to the New York Times, whose unnamed sources say Apple has struggled with the tablet concept since at least 2003. One former exe

cutive said debates over the tablet's usefulness "have been happening for quite some time." Jobs was also responsible for killing the failed Newton tablet when he returned to the company in 1997, after being pushed out in 1985.

So if Apple's chief executive officer is, in fact, taking charge of the project now, what has changed his mind? And for that matter, what remains the same, six years after Apple reportedly developed a prototype? Let's take a look:

The Technology is Better and Less Expensive

These are obvious, but important points. The prototype that Apple supposedly created in 2003 drained battery too quickly, and its components alone cost $500. We now see $400 netbooks that last ten hours on a charge, and even Apple's iPhone, despite complaints, can usually make it through the day.

3G Makes the Tablet More Portable

Connectivity is arguably the first step toward freeing the tablet from your commode. I'd be shocked if an Apple tablet didn't at least give you the option of a wireless data plan.

Mobile Apps Increase the Tablet's Usefulness

Apple sells its iPhone and iPod Touch on the strength of the App Store, so it'd be no stretch to imagine the company doing the same for a larger device. Analysts agree that an Apple tablet would have the entire App Store available from day one, making the device more attractive to consumers.

Cost is Still an Issue

The rumors have it that Apple's tablet will cost somewhere in the range of $700. Even if you could offset that figure with a subsidy from a wireless carrier, the price of ownership isn't cheap. I'll concede that the same argument could be made for the iPhone, but the tablet isn't a proven device like a smartphone. It's something entirely new, and consumers may not buy into it.

Laptops Rule for Productivity

Personally, I'm not thrilled with the idea of craning my head over a single screen and typing documents on a virtual keyboard that occupies half the screen's real estate. If I have to work from the road, I'd rather pack a netbook, which at least sits neatly on a desk.

Question of Demand Remains Unresolved

When it comes down to it, not everyone at Apple agrees that the average consumer needs or even wants a tablet PC. Sure, the tablet would fill the gap between touch screen phone and notebook, but it's looking for a problem with both of those devices that doesn't necessarily exist. In other words, there may be still be no reason to take a tablet out of the bathroom.

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