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The upcoming Apple tablet - Jason Lindquist
Idle ramblings of an idle mind
jlindquist
jlindquist
The upcoming Apple tablet
I was sitting around yesterday afternoon chatting with a friend. He still works in the business of designing custom single-board computers. We were tossing around the rumors that Apple has a tablet PC coming out perhaps in January. Yes, these rumors have floated or flown about since the death of the Newton. But this time, they're coming out of an LCD manufacturer. This source claims Apple placed a large order for 10" touch-sensitive LCDs. This is way larger than an iPhone or iPod, and way smaller than any variety of MacBook. I think the rumors are finally true, because I think the technology is finally lined up for Apple to provide its brand of top-flight experience in this form factor.

We did some brainstorming yesterday about what shape this tablet would take. First, ARM or Intel? The ARMs inside the iPhone are pretty damned powerful. What you can do with an app there blows the doors off what desktops could do just five to seven years ago. On the other hand, in a 10" form, people will surely want to do more than just what an iPhone allows. They're going to want their desktop apps. They could get them on ARM if Apple wrote another runtime binary translation system--remember, they did 68K emulation on the PowerPCs, and the Rosetta PPC emulator on the Intels. But why? There's netbooks based on Intel's Atom CPUs that run close to 2 GHz, use so little power, and use it so efficiently they don't need fans. The graphics aren't comparable on either architecture to what's on the desktop, but do you really need to be able to play Warcraft III on a 10" tablet?

Battery life has to be very good. Not as long as the iPhone, but longer than on the MacBooks. So we were thinking an Atom CPU and solid-state disk. SSD is getting bigger, cheaper, faster, and more reliable all the time--particularly this year. I bet we'll never see a platter on this tablet.

Steve Jobs wasn't wrong, people want a keyboard on their PCs. But they laid all that groundwork on the iPhone. It wouldn't be wildly successful if people couldn't send text from it. On a 10" screen, you're golden. If you want to put it on a little acrylic stand and get "real" work done, Apple already sells a nice Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. I expect a MagSafe power connector, Gig ethernet, and USB 2.0. I'd like to see FireWire 400, but that would be best served by a 4-pin connector, and Apple's never done that. Besides, they skipped it on the Air. An SD card slot a la the MacBook Pros would be nice, but again, the Air omits it. The optical drive will surely be external. Maybe a Mini DisplayPort for presentation capability? Definitely accelerometers and a compass. The mapping capability on something this size is just teh awesum.

The rumor mill has talked a lot about a 3G radio, maybe 4G (WiMax or LTE,) and subsidies from Verizon (thus LTE.) We thought this is likely, since halfway-to-an-iPhone really demands it. I wouldn't count on voice calls. You have to have your phone everywhere. Nobody's gonna carry this thing to clubs or amusement parks.

We guessed $1800 to start. Demand for this would be astronomical, and a high price helps manage that. It's on par with a lot of the flip-and-fold Windows tablets out there. The promotional approach makes sense: "Same price, but IT'S A MAC." Prices will drop over the next year and a half as the specs improve and the supply catches up.

It will be very hard for me not to buy one the week it comes out, if this happens. But I'll try. The second-rev hardware is always a bit faster or a bit bigger.
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