So it turns out I was entirely too ambitious about most of my keynote predictions (seen here). The only thing I got right is what everyone already knew, that Apple’s new tablet device would be revealed.
There is already an amazing amount of coverage about the iPad, more than I can remember seeing for any other tablet announced or released by any other company. Like the iPhone, the general attitude towards the iPad is definitely love it or hate it. Those who love it see it for what it is meant to be, those who hate it see it for what they wanted it to be.
Unfortunately for those who wanted it to be a full fledge computer in tablet form, the iPad is simply what to needs to be, an enlarged iPod touch or iPhone. Based on what was shown at the keynote, the iPad is meant to be a device used primarily for the consumption of media. A convenient appliance that you can use to browse the web, check your email, browse Facebook, view photos, play a game or whatever else developers can come up with. Everything the iPod touch or iPhone can do but in a larger form factor.
The choice to use the iPhone OS was a wise one. Everyone, except Microsoft apparently, knows that an OS meant to be used on a desktop or laptop computer just isn’t a good fit for use on a tablet. Tablet computers have existed for years now but never really caught on because, as Steve Jobs said of netbooks, they fail to do anything better than what they’re trying to replace. They simply hack off the keyboard and mouse and replace it with a stylus. While in theory this sounds great, in practice it has proven to be less than successful.
This is because desktop operating systems like OS X and Windows were designed entirely with the idea that a keyboard and mouse would be the primary input devices. Replacing a keyboard and mouse with a stylus is simply a less convenient way to do the same thing. While handwriting recognition is certainly an impressive thing, the utility of it in reality just doesn’t live up to the hype. Obviously tablet makers have long been aware of this because most tablet designs created in the last eight years have been the convertible laptop, a standard laptop with a screen that is able to rotate and fold back down into the closed position. If the tablet is such a wonderful thing why isn’t able to be a stand alone product?
Yet so many people are upset that the iPad isn’t a full fledged OS X device even though history has certainly shown it just doesn’t work well. In fact, I believe no “tablet only” device will ever be successful if it attempts to utilize a desktop OS as its foundation without some new interface on top of it. It simply can’t because all of the widgets, the buttons, check boxes and drop down menus, are all small and require the precision a mouse provides. It’d be a miserable experience. The iPhone OS on the other hand was designed from the ground up around the idea that you would have ONLY your fingers as input devices. Much in the same way Microsoft created a fantastic interface for it’s media center functionality, Apple created a specific type of interface for iPhone OS so that it was more appropriate.
Certainly 2010 is going to be the year of the tablet computer. Many manufacturers have already shown off a number of different designs. Obviously Apple is the only manufacturer releasing an iPhone OS based tablet but a number of devices will be running Android which, like the iPhone OS, is designed to be used primarily on smaller touch enabled devices. Other manufacturers, notably HP, have shown off Windows 7 based devices and despite now offering a multitouch enabled interface, is still just a regular Windows 7 system. Time will tell, but I believe the Windows 7 based systems will continue to sell as well previous Windows based tablets unless Microsoft creates an entirely new interface, just like they did for media center.