It's a rumor that I've been hearing for years, but a recent tweak to the Mac OS X UI (user interface), combined with other indicators, suggests that Apple is increasingly embracing touch and gestures and could be gearing up for a full-blown OS X tablet release.
Let's join the dots.
First off, there are the rumors. Now I don't put much stock into rumors, especially Apple-related rumors because a good 98% turn out to be nonsense, but the various noises I'm hearing from supply chain insiders, as well as insiders at Apple and other companies, seem to indicate that Apple does indeed have its sights set on a Mac OS X tablet. For example, a recent rumors that Apple was working on high-resolution tablet touchscreens fits in better with the idea of a Mac OS X tablet than iPad 2/3 simple because the OS could make better use of the improved resolution.
But what other evidence is there of an Apple tablet? Well, take a look at the work that Apple is doing now in hardware. Thinner and lighter is the mantra over at Cupertino, just what you'd want in a tablet running Mac OS X. Apple's acquisition of Liquidmetal Technologies fits in with the tablet model too. Then there's battery technology, which Apple is pushing hard in order to squeeze as much life out of a charge as possible. Even developments such as the smart case for the iPad 2 could cross over happily to a mac OS X tablet.
Let's also remember that Apple has had a year to learn about how people use tablets and what people want of them thanks to the iPad going mass-market as rapidly as it did. This is valuable information that no other OEM has available to them and it makes sense that it will leverage this information in other products.
What else? Well, look at Apple's dabbling with touch on Mac OS X. Apple has already added extensive touch, multi-touch and gesture support to Mac OS X, albeit confined to the touchpad. These improvements would translate directly, and well, to a Mac OS X tablet. In the developer preview of Mac OS X 10.7 'Lion' Apple has taken things a step further and added a very tabletesque feature called 'reverse scrolling.' This simply reverses the whole scrolling paradigm that mouse and touchpad users have grown accustomed to by moving the content in the direction of finger movement (something that will be familiar to iPad and iPhone users already).
Image courtesy of Tech-Recipes.com
This feature allows users to interact with the content on the screen in a touch-logical way. Today users will only be able to interact with the content in this way via the touchpad (which feels a little kludgy and counter-intuitive), but this would make a cracking UI feature for tablets.
But what about applications? One of the problems of taking a desktop OS and putting it on a tablet is that you're essentially taking an UI that's designed for use with a cursor or keyboard and trying to operate it with fingers instead. This works with some apps, but for others it quickly becomes tiresome. Enter Mac Apps. This new feature in Mac OS X paves the way for iOS-like apps on the OS. This would give users access to apps specifically designed for use with fingers.
Then there's simply the success of the iPad, and the invigoration of the tablet sector as a whole. Tablets are now the big thing, and Windows and Android hardware are joining iPads in the fight for consumer's (and enterprise's) cash. Microsoft is already saying that the next version of Windows "will look a lot different and it will run different applications" and keeps mentioning tablets a lot. Is Apple likely to allow Microsoft and its OEMs to define the full-OS tablet market? I don't know, but it would be silly to do so, and if Apple is looking to get a tablet out before Microsoft's OEMs have a chance, then that needs to happen in the next 12 to 15 months or so.
Putting it all together, I think that it's a pretty sure bet that Apple is working on Mac OS X tablets. The way I see it such a product could be used to either augment or completely replace the existing MacBook Air offering. Yeah, it makes sense ...
[UPDATE: Here's an interesting Apple video from the 1990s showing pen tablets, mobile collaboration, search and so on ...
via Michael Gartenberg]
What do you think?