Apple's tablet: a developers POV
Colling Ruffenach of icodeblog.com takes an Apple developers journey through the possibilities of Jobs' Tablet.
As I'm sure most of you have seen, tablet talk is hitting a fever pitch. Apple's stock the last few weeks is evidence enough that people think something is up in Cupertino. I want there to be one, but like everyone else I haven't seen it, yet. With that said, lets assume something comes out of Cupertino this week, as expected. Lets for a moment dive into the hypothetical software market of the Apple Tablet. First off some ground rules. Lets assume we have the 10 inch glass multi touch tablet everyone is predicting, similar to the JooJoo Pad.
I'm sure that there is going to be some type of Apple flare, however for simplicity's sake le'ts say a device with very similar hardware to the JooJoo Pad is released by Apple. Lets also assume that the device has some hybrid of OS X and iPhone OS, allowing for background processing and higher performance but using its own interface classes. Here is what I see as the emerging markets as a result of a device like this.
Make Reading Cool Again
Many people when talking about this device deem it to be the "Kindle Killer". The major difference between a device like this and the Kindle or the Nook is that it would have an LCD of some type rather than the eInk employed in current eBook Readers. While I understand the advantage in terms of looking at eInk compared to an LCD on eye strain, an LCD will be able to present the media rich content we have become accustomed to on the internet much better than its eBook counterparts. Over the last few weeks many of these "tablet magazine" video mock ups have been coming to light. This is my personal favorite and I think it brings up a lot of interesting design ideas that we may begin seeing in 2010.
I see this experience as an elegant merger of the periodical and the Internet. Magazines and their physical properties have an important role in history. Newspaper covers and magazine covers stand as markers of important moments in history. I don't feel that websites have achieved this same position in our minds. Does anyone remember what the front page of NY Times look like on a certain day? The amount of content has skyrocketed, however the lasting impact of the content has suffered. I feel that the UI put forth in a device such as the tablet will be able to allow news outlets and other types of content generators to present their work more deliberately, and therefore make it more permanent in the minds of viewers. The goal here is to present dynamic content in a permanent context. Sustain all the flexibility the web has made us expect, while presenting it in classical forms.
This new market is going to make a new kind of job opening for any type of service that presents content to its users. In 2009 we saw the emergence of apps. Many times apps were small utilities like conversion tools or timers. But the vast majority of apps (excluding games) are really just content delivery mechanisms. Take any news application for example. These are native iPhone apps, but more generally they are specialized views of the providers web content. When you open up the CNN app you are really just seeing the same content that is available on their website except they have been kind enough to make you pay $2.99 to see it in this iPhone specialized package (Not a rip on CNN BTW, they got the king of news apps IMHO).
The idea of a big high resolution touch screen is very alluring in terms of creating these new types of content views. Companies like Bonnier AB are investigating what types of software design could be used to emulate the physical experiences we had in the past. It seems reasonable that Apple could use its current 70/30 model from the app store and apply it to content like this, or possibly borrow ideas from the app store such as season subscriptions.
This is a total shot in the dark but I see comic books as being a big winner with a device like the tablet. The 2000's have been good to super heros. Their movies became cool again, Iron Man 2 is going to make a killing this summer, I mean people wanted The Dark Knight to win an Oscar! As a result I think comic books could gain a new life in the public's eye with a device like the tablet. Imagine a comic book that moves, or one where you control the story. Maybe something like a really high production passive video game. Get Robert Downey Jr. to throw down the voice track for Iron Man and Marvel has a whole new revenue stream. The term "Motion Comics" is emerging to represent what I'm thinking of. Check out this version of the Watchmen and try to envision it in some type of tablet presentation.
Big Screen Gaming
A device like the tablet would allow for the touch control based games we have seen emerging over the last year to really mature. A few months back Illusion Labs in conjunction with TouchTech showed off a BIG screen multitouch demo of their games TouchGrind and Sway and I personally find the results amazing. A lot of times when I am playing games on my phone I find myself unable to be immerse in the experience because I am constantly blocking my view of the gameplay with my fingers. With a larger screen I think game developers would be able to work around this problem more effectively and create a new class of games that really take advantage of the unique input that multitouch allows.
There are certain gaming genres that are really going to gain a lot of value as more powerful multitouch devices and frameworks are released. Ubisoft has this great promotional video for the new game Ruse that shows off some compelling looks at game play of a Real Time Strategy (RTS) game on a large multitouch screen. A device like the tablet would be a great stepping stone for software like this and would be easy for developers to move the already incredibly popular iPhone RTS's onto. I'm not much of a gamer myself but these two videos make me feel like video games are going to see a lot of benefit through the proliferation of larger, higher resolutions touch screen devices. People have been saying that Apple has thrown down the gauntlet in the portable gaming wars and with a device like the expected tablet they are looking to really piss off the big time console manufacturers. It is going to be interesting if Apple would push this larger touch screen device in the gaming market as much as they have pushed the iPod Touch. If there was to be some development in terms of the integration of the two devices, say the iPhone acting as a controller for a game running on the touch, Apple would essentially be entering into a market with XBox and PS3.
So with all this said one large question does remain for this device. Can it really be a success in the way that the iPod and iPhone have been and continue to be? Everything I have referenced relies completely upon this thing having a major audience. If Apple only sells 1 million of these things this year they are going to be in some serious trouble. These high profile magazines, enhanced content and high budget games are only going to be made if there is an audience to consume the content. Can this "iSlate" really be the digital device to rule them all? The computer for the desk was incredible for a while but then became too immobile. The laptop was incredible for mobility but lacked use on the move. The iPhone was incredible to use on the move but lacked power and functionality. Can the tablet conquer mobile usage and power.
I have been pondering this for months and for some reason my mind keeps wandering off to this one specific episode of South Park in the fourth Season called "Trapper Keeper" (see below). The idea is Cartmen gets the new Trapper Kepper that really kind of looks like a tablet. It can do all these crazy functions and even work with other devices. I guess currently the Adult trapper keeper is the laptop. It holds our notes, conversations, drawings, contacts, appointments; much like our school day trapper keeper did. Can Apple be making the real adult Trapper Keeper? My vote for the name is iKeeper.
Follow me on Twitter! @cruffenach or contact me in comments.