The Apple rumour mill is reaching a tablet-tastic crescendo. If even one tenth of the chatter is correct then we’re on course for an announcement early in the new year and a possible shipping date in the second quarter of 2010. So let’s imagine for a moment that it’s a reality. What use will it really be and what will it mean for the Smart Home?
While many will blindly flock to simply buy the next new thing from Apple, there are many others who don’t see the point in a tablet. Apple will have to aim the device so as to appeal to as many markets as it can to ensure its success.
Home Control Apps – Since its launch two and a half years ago, the iPhone has gradually become the focus of smart home control for many companies. Along with the iPod Touch it is heading towards the ubiquitous nature of the iPod, certainly amongst gadget-loving smart home owners.
With over 100,000 apps now available in the iTunes Apps Store, and over 2 billion downloads to date, the software choice is unrivalled. Native apps are available in many smart home categories like lighting control, whole house audio, security systems and AV. Even the big home automation players with an interest in selling their own expensive hardware touchscreens have released iPhone Apps.
There’s already a bewildering array of Smart Home apps available for the iPhone
Apple are rumoured to have asked a select few developers to create a ‘full screen’ version of their Apps for an upcoming demo. Allowing the tablet access to the immense range of applications for the iPhone with a few simple tweaks of the code could potentially give the device one of the greatest software choices ever for the launch of a new platform – not least in the area of the Smart Home. In addition Apple are working to improve web apps on the iPhone too. The recent ‘PastryKit’ web framework apparently makes web apps virtually indistinguishable from native ones – video demo here.
For all the possibilities the tablet presents, some key questions remain if it is to be rooted from its iPhone sibling. Will the tablet allow multi-tasking? The iPhone is limited to running one 3rd party (non-Apple) App at a time. If the tablet was to be used to control multiple smart home sub-systems from unique apps this would result in a great deal of repeated opening and closing of each application. One potential way around this would be to have a common web interface to all devices – perhaps using something like HomeSeer and xAP / xPL. Or perhaps the larger form factor of the tablet will allow for a battery big enough to cope with the power-sapping nature of running multiple concurrent apps?
Video Player – It strikes us that the tablet would also make an ideal movie player either around the house or on the go. Frequent flyers (especially those who get to sit in cattle class like us) will know how difficult it can be to get the room just to open a laptop up, never mind use it. The flat nature and big screen would lend itself well to this role.
We assume the tablet will use flash memory (or an SSD?) and with the little iPod Touch already having a 64GB version there should be plenty of space for movies on the new device. However, if the unit is heavily based on the iPhone then its likely to be limited to playback of h.264 video. It remains to be seen if the device would be as closed an ecosystem as the iPhone. If it is then it would certainly be a new high profile challenge to the hacking community to open it up to run other software.
Browser – The NetBook has become the ‘Sofa Surfer” of choice in the last 18 months and while the diminutive devices are great value, the user experience can often leave a lot to be desired. A 10 inch high quality device with the intelligent virtual keyboard and the high quality browsing experience from the iPhone would be another compelling feature for the tablet.
Reader – Amazon’s Kindle has been called the iPod for books many times already. Apple will no doubt want to quash their early lead in this market. They are reportedly in talks (offering better terms than Amazon?) with publishers and other content providers who are looking around for a delivery method to their readers. It seems entirely possible that we may be receiving our daily newspapers and monthly magazines on the Apple device in the future.
On the down side, reading for long periods on a device with a backlight isn’t ideal. The e-ink employed by established eBook readers is much easier on the eye. However, their lack of colour, speed and dearth of other features may be enough to convince all but the most ardent of bookworms that the Apple device may be the more flexible choice. The Kindle comparison opens up another question – will the Apple device ship with a SIM slot for cellular access? Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are a given.
Apple’s aim must surely be to create and command the de facto device for written media delivery and consumption, as they have done for music with the iPod and iTunes.
Price – One thing we know for certain is that any Apple tablet will be a premium product with a matching price tag. However, in the high-end world of Crestron and AMX touchscreens, Apple’s prices would certainly appear ‘reasonable’ in comparison. Take the Pronto TSU9600 remote. At £950 it may not be a million miles away from the Apple tablet price and assuming devices like the ThinkFlood RedEye will work with the device just as well as with the iPhone, then it will offer similar remote control application plus the myriad of additional functionality.
Make it So – As always for products being cooked up in the white, shiny corridors of Apple, the shroud of mystery remains in place and while the mist seems to be lifting, leaving us with a clearer picture of what the tablet might be, everything you read today remains conjecture until any formal Apple announcement. Whatever the features, with Apple’s track record for success in recent years and the single-minded focus of the CEO of the decade, who’d bet against another huge winner from Cupertino?