Monday, January 25, 2010

The Tablet Comes Down From The Mountain

Anyone who's known me a long time knows I'm a buttboy for Apple products.
I've long admired Apple computers, but until fifteen years ago, my income was insufficient to justify purchasing one. Yes, I know the ramble: Apple comes preloaded, no viruses, lower costs to maintain, yadayadayada, so the cost to own is comparable to a cheap PC. I know this because I bought into it eventually. It didn't matter in 1988. I bought a PS-1 for $800. I ended up plowing another couple of hundred on RAM and a hard drive, so yes, eventually it cost as much as a good Mac.
Maybe if Apple had introduced a lay-away plan back then, its market share would be healthier, but I digress.
When I bought my first Mac, a Performa 6360CD, despite that particular model's deep design flaws and the absolutely inscrutable nature of the Apple product line at the time, I fell in love. Here was a computer that actually thought one step ahead of me. Instead of responding to demand, it anticipated my needs. You could tell it had been created by a design team, not a bunch of marketers (altho the Performa, later models would prove, had a lot of input from the Marketeers).
It's gotten so bad that I recently traded in my iPhone 3G for an iPhone 3GS, and now I have cause to re-evaluate even that upgrade. The iTablet (or iSlate, as it's rumored to be called).
Now, the iSlate sounds like it will be an impressive product: a reader to compete with the Kindle, a gaming console that will take on at least the Wii in terms of sophistication, graphics and oh yes, motion control, and a netbook (my real reason for coveting it), if all this can come in at a price point closer to $500 than $1,000, Apple will have yet again redefined an entire market.
Or four. the reader, the gaming console (especially on the tail end of a disappointing holiday season which saw no real upgrades to the big three systems) and the netbook. And the desktop PC.
The desktop PC is starting to get long in the tooth as a way for the average person to be connected. The smart phone revolution, particularly after the iPhone, saw to that. Apps that basically take advantage of the concept of cloud computing that you can download to your phone allow you to be mobile and in touch.
The only area that Apple will struggle with here, I think, is the netbook. You see, netbooks are cheap pieces of PC crap that are cobbled together with little thought to anything except being able to get data and information from here to there.
Apple doesn't do cheap. They've said so in the past that the netbook is a market they'll concede. At least that was true.
Too, AT&T, the iPhone's only authorized US service, has refused to unlock tethering, or using your iPhone (or data account) to access the Internet from a laptop or 3G modem (a development which simultaneously pissed me off and intiated my sole attempt to hack the AT&T network).
My suspicion is, the iSlate is the reason why. I imagine that AT&T will allow tethering only if you have an existing iPhone account, or buy a data plan when you purchase the iSlate.
If AT&T is clumsy enough to insist that you have a separate account for the iSlate if you already have a contract for the iPhone, it will likely kill the iSlate. If Verizon is the carrier of choice for the iSlate, that will piss off the installed base of iPhone users (something like 8 million in the US, with a predicted jump to 23 million by year's end) who are contractually obligated to stay with AT&T. The logical choice is to offer the iSlate on both networks and force AT&T's hand.
Steve Jobs is probably pissed as hell that he's had to genuflect to AT&T's core incompetence. We've seen a woefully slow rollout of the 3G network, serious outages and blind spots where it actually does exist, and a trickle of improvements (waiting two years for picture messaging? Are you kidding?) over the years. Verizon refused the offer of the original iPhone, likely because it had just rolled out its V-Cast services, including music, video and TV shows, and would have been in direct competition with the iTunes store.
You don't see many Verizon commercials for the V-Cast service anymore.
Anyway, I'll probably grab one when it hits the shelves in June, even if I have to limit it to WiFi use only. It will be a game changer.