Apple Tablet on Verge of Introduction
When Apple Computer booked the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for a media event, the media and customers went into overdrive concocting rumors of what new products or software will be unveiled.
The most popular rumor is the release of the highly anticipated Apple Tablet which has been expected for over a year. As is always the case, Apple closely manages the information that is “leaked” prior to an announcement.
Steve Jobs and the crew at Apple have perfected the art of product releases to build the hype to a frenzied level making sure all media outlets will cover their event. You would think that the public would become accustomed to these events but Apple never seems to disappoint regardless of whether the introduction lives up to the rumors or not.
The January 27 event has been billed as being “mobile” specific. This could mean anything from an update to the successful MacBook laptops to an iPhone upgrade to the new tablet. Personally I am expecting this to be the tablet which some have suggested will be named the ‘iPad”.
Rather than regurgitating the various rumors surrounding this new product, I thought perhaps it would interesting to talk through some of the challenges Apple may have in this space.
While we all love to talk about cool hardware and get excited at seeing the device in person, it is important to keep in perspective that the success of new computing devices are less tied to hardware specifications. For a device such as the Apple Tablet to gain traction in the market it will require incredible software and one killer application.
When Apple Computer introduced the Apple I and later the Apple ][, it was largely described as a “hobbyist device”. To make it work required some software engineering to create a program each time the computer was powered up. It was relegated to a market segment of people who dabbled in electronics; definitely not a mainstream product.
All of this changed with the introduction of VisiCalc. VisiCalc was an electronic spreadsheet that allowed the user to complete mathematical tasks quickly and easily. When people saw what VisiCalc could do, the sales figures for Apple ][ computers literally took off. Suddenly people who before would never have looked at a personal computer were buying these devices and inventing ways to use spreadsheets in their daily lives.
In 1984 Apple introduced the Macintosh computer. It took some of the best design ideas from the Apple Lisa and built them into a compact computer. By itself the Macintosh was a novel experiment in alternative input/output. While the Lisa had a similar interface it did not penetrate the market as Apple had envisioned.
Apple made a decision to include two applications with the Macintosh, MacWrite and MacPaint. These two applications showcased the features of the new hardware and enabled users to envision their lives being better as a result of using the product.
Customers flocked to Apple stores after the Macintosh announcement and laid out $2,995 for a computer with 128K of RAM, a 9 inch Black & White monitor, a 400K disk drive, and a dot matrix printer. The shortage of Macintosh computers resulted in waiting lists that at times reached on for several weeks or months before delivery.
For nearly a year after its introduction the Macintosh had just MacWrite and MacPaint software available yet people continued to buy the hardware just to use these two applications.
When Apple introduced the iPod, it also included iTunes as a way for user to interact with their new handheld device. With iTunes users could not only load the iPod with music but would facilitate adding content changing the paradigm of how we buy music.
Now Apple appears to be set to introduce a tablet. The question becomes, what will be the killer application that will drive people to purchase the device. It has been rumored that the tablet will be able to act as an electronic book reader, a multimedia device capable of displaying video and photos, and provide surfing capabilities. Will that be enough to garner the interest of users beyond the current loyal Apple customer base?
Each of the markets (book reader, multimedia, and browser) is adequately covered by existing products both within Apple and elsewhere. Personally I think it will take a completely different piece of software to push the tablet to cult status that previous Apple products seem to have achieved.
It is hard to envision what that software may be especially since very few have been fortunate enough to see the device before its release. The announcement needs to not only provide a glimpse of the new hardware, it must also capture the imagination of software developers to inspire them to develop something that will capture the public driving not only software sales but also hardware.
Like many, I will be glued to my computer during the presentation to see what the device can do and hopefully be inspired to develop something that can push the limits of the device and enable the users to places they could not imagine before the product was announced.