It's no secret that I'm a big fan of the concept of an Apple tablet. It would be a great machine for commuting, allowing me to keep up with news and email on-the-go. New reports indicate that Apple may be close to releasing such a beast in 2007.
Citing sources in Taiwan Australia's Smarthouse claims that Apple researchers have built a fully working prototype of tablet Mac and three companies in Taiwan are bidding for a potential launch in mid 2007.
Quanta and Hon Hai Precision Industry (a.k.a. Foxconn Electronics Inc.) are Taiwanese companies that make notebooks and other devices for Apple. Both have signed confidentiality agreements with Apple for the Tablet Mac according to the report.
Smarthouse believes that Apple's recent patent filing for a 'mechanical overlay' is related to the Mac tablet:
On November 16, the US Patent & Trademark Office published Apple's patent application titled ‘mechanical overlay' which was originally filed in May 2005. Apple's patent relates generally to overlays for touch sensing devices. More particularly, the present invention relates to mechanical overlays that include one or more mechanical actuators that provide touch inputs to the touch sensing devices. This powerful patent provides several great examples of mechanical touch screen overlays which could be used with a future iPod, cell phone, PDA, remote control or gaming device. Furthermore, the patent provides us with a unique glimpse into how touch screens will eventually replace traditional MacBook keyboards in addition to providing users with the ability to transform the new keyboard-GUI into being a piano keyboard amongst other applications.
In February 2006 I wrote about a tablet Mac that was built from a converted iBook. Then in March 2006 the Wintel community was abuzz over Intel's Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) platform and a new product from Microsoft called Origami.
I think that in addition to commuters, a tablet Mac would be perfect for doctors, foremen, teachers, real estate agents and photographers. Users of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator would also be perfect candidates for a tablet Mac because the touch screen allows you paint right on the screen.
Other than Jobs' much publicized disdain for PDAs, an Apple tablet has other hurdles to clear before it can be successful: the touch screen and handwriting recognition will have to be perfect.
For a Mac tablet to shine the voice recognition will have to be better than Mac OS X's built-in speech recognition. It should be as good as or better than IBM's ViaVoice and Dragon's NaturallySpeaking. Apple's Inkwell handwriting recognition technology would most likely be tapped for the project, but we haven't heard much about it since Jaguar.
There are a lot of negatives to tablet computers: they are less functional than full-fledged notebook PCs, data input can be dicey (although handwriting recognition is slow, voice recognition has the potential to be fast) and they're usually pretty bulky and expensive.
My requirements for an Apple tablet are that it includes WiFi and Bluetooth HID (Human Interface Device) profile support, has a thin and light profile and is priced under US$800 (preferably under US$500). While I don't expect the Apple tablet to replace my MacBook Pro, it would be a nice addition to my Mac family.
What features would compel you to buy an Apple tablet?
Poll: Would you buy a sub-$800 Apple tablet? [poll id=9]