Is Apple getting ready for an 'iPad'

Is Apple getting ready for an 'iPad'

Summary: Is the world finally ready for a mobile 'media pad'? Apple could be plotting to bridge the mobile computing gap between the iPod touch and MacBook.

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Over the last several months, Apple has made moves in the direction of bridging the mobile computing gap, with plans to develop a device that fits somewhere in between the iPhone and the MacBook.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal said that, during his medical leave, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs has been working on a kind of mid-sized mobile device. BusinessWeek also recently reported that Apple is developing a 'media pad' that would let users watch videos on a screen larger than an iPod touch or Amazon's Kindle e-book reader, but on a device that's more portable than notebooks and lacks a keyboard.

The personal computer industry has long tried to make such a device a reality, but apart from some early success for the Kindle, no one has managed to convince the public that the attempts released to date — such as the ultramobile PC — are worth buying. Instead, PC companies looking for increased mobility are finding ways to shrink the notebook PC instead of finding a new way to use computers.

As far back as 2000, Microsoft founder Bill Gates was evangelizing tablet PCs, but a combination of price and uninspired software doomed that category to niche status. Intel and Microsoft then turned the hype machine to the UMPC (later rebranded as mobile Internet device or MID), which aren't exactly flying off store shelves.

More recently, PC companies have embraced netbooks — small inexpensive mini-notebook computers that are designed for basic Web surfing and email. Netbooks, however, are further depressing the PC industry's gross margins and attempt to cram a full-fledged notebook user interface into a small package, and it doesn't seem that Apple is all that crazy about this category.

But Apple has developed a few unique ideas for mobile computing over the past two years that have resonated with designers, developers and users: namely, the iPhone OS and the App Store. Is the timing finally right for the 'tweener' computer?

BusinessWeek reported that the 'iPad' (name taken from Silicon Alley Insider) would be about the size of the Kindle, but with a screen that covers a greater portion of the surface. The Kindle's the screen is just 6 inches and doesn't cover its entire body; by comparison, the iPhone sports an 3.5-inch display, while the smallest MacBook uses a 13.3-inch display.

Previous attempts at making keyboard-less devices with larger screens haven't captured the public's imagination. Microsoft and Intel had high hopes for the concept in 2006, which was also known as Project Origami inside Microsoft. Samsung made perhaps the best-received MID, but interest in the category quickly faded after the launch of the iPhone.

The main issue with MIDs was a lack of compelling software. They were designed to run Windows XP, which itself wasn't designed to run on a device with such a small screen and limited methods of input. At launch, Windows Vista was actually a step backward in terms of its suitability for mobile devices.

Intel tried to shift MIDs to Linux to get around the resource problems of Windows Vista, but its partners have yet to gain any traction. Neither attempt was able to galvanize third-party developers into creating applications designed specifically for a mobile platform.

Apple's iPhone OS, however, was designed for a small-screen mobile environment. Installing the iPhone OS 3.0 on the iPad would allow Apple to preserve the user interface from the iPhone and iPod touch and keep the device simple. A more complicated — and power hungry — operating system isn't needed for a computer like this.

Apple could also take advantage of the App Store, giving the iPad thousands of applications at its disposal right from launch. One potential problem with that approach is that developers will have to rewrite their iPhone applications to adapt to the larger-size screen on this new device, said Craig Hockenberry of Iconfactory, creators of Twitterific.

Hockenberry, who is very confident that Apple has such a device in the works, doesn't think this will be a huge obstacle, but developers will have to gauge whether the extra development effort is worth their time. One thing Apple could do is set aside a separate section of the App Store for iPad-optimized applications, while finding a way to run older iPhone applications in some sort of compatibility mode.

"It wouldn't be hard for Apple to have a 'Classic' environment on a tablet that provided a 320x480-pixel window for running one or more iPhone applications," Hockenberry said in an email. "It would be a smart thing for them to do: there are instantly tens of thousands of apps and users are presented with a familiar interface (something that looks a lot like Dashboard in Mac OS X)."

The iPad could also be the first Apple product to surface with a chip designed by PA Semi. A custom chip could solve two problems for Apple — the need to keep software compatibility with the ARM-based chips used to run the iPhone while delivering more performance for HD video playback or more robust games that competitors might not be able to immediately match.

There are two schools of thought on the pricing of such a device. UMPCs, at around $700 (£475), were considered too expensive but because they didn't offer any value, not because of the sticker price itself. It would not be hard for Apple to argue that an iPad with an HD screen, thousands of applications and a superior mobile browser is worth just slightly more than what people were willing to pay for the original iPhone.

A $699 iPad would slot nicely between the iPod touch and MacBook in Apple's product lineup and preserve Apple's profit margins. It might also allow the company to reduce the price over time if needed, similar to the original iPhone.

But Apple could also hook up with a wireless carrier to subsidize the iPad. The company has reportedly been in talks about distributing MacBooks through wireless carrier friends like AT&T in the US, which already sells 3G-equipped netbooks with a data plan subscription.

This is the last frontier of the promised convergence between computers and communication devices. That shift has already happened to the smartphone, but it seems very reasonable that, for many people, smartphone screens are too small for serious computing.

If Apple is indeed working on such a product, it will have to get the implementation right to avoid duplicating the failures of so many other mobile computing aspirants. But by having awakened the public to the promise of basic mobile computing, Apple could be best positioned to capitalize on the need for something more.

This article was originally posted on CNET News.

Topics: iPad, Apple, Hardware, iPhone, Mobility, Wi-Fi

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24 comments
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  • No need to adapt existing apps

    [i]One potential problem with that approach is that developers will have
    to rewrite their iPhone applications to adapt to the larger-size screen on
    this new device[/i]

    No they don't, just put it in a window. Give the API the ability to make
    larger workspaces if the developer wants, but there's no reason that
    existing iPhone apps couldn't run as-is.
    ChiperSoft
  • Uhh, the Apple snobs already said netbooks = junk nt

    nt
    T1Oracle
    • Uhhh this wouldn't be a netbook

      It may be able to provide similar functionality, but I think the idea is more about a mobile entertainment device that has a little bit larger screen. Not to mention if this is a multi-touch device would kick every other netbook's azz...

      However if such a device is in development, it would be great to have a couple of USB ports for a keyboard and mouse...
      xXSpeedzXx
    • You got it baby! Why a new Netbook when the iPhone will do the trick! (NT)

      NT
      No More Microsoft Software Ever!
    • Apple:" Netbooks built by PC guys = junk".

      Time Cook actually said that netbooks as built now by PC guys is junk.

      But they're looking at the netbook space and what they'll come up with
      won't be junk.
      Davewrite
      • Jobs said

        he did not know how to make a netbook-like product that is not a piece of junk. Translated for you: "If we, at Apple, create a netbook it will be piece of junk". Jobs did not mentioned anything about how PC makers create netbooks
        markbn
  • No - it will be an iPhone Net device

    Expect the iPhone to grow to a 6" screen for the perfect mix between iPhone and iPad. All the apps will be available AND the characteristics of an iPad (landscape on-screen keyboard, USB port (single) and an HDMI port, etc.).

    Love Apple! Go baby, Go!
    No More Microsoft Software Ever!
  • ipod touch isn't far off this is it?

    Just add bigger screen.
    stevey_d
  • but why hire all the chip designers?

    maybe a much better AppleTV device?

    Who knows..??
    stevey_d
  • RE: Is Apple getting ready for an 'iPad'

    Why? That way they can make their own custom chips to it harder for their competitors to steal their work.
    Axsimulate
  • RE: Is Apple getting ready for an 'iPad'

    a 699 ipad would fit nicley where????? omg you can get a full fledge laptop for that price....

    apple tax in full force...

    dave@...
    • @dave

      With a bluetooth headset it could be inside a backpack or a briefcase and you could still make and receive calls. Sure it wouldn't be as portable as a smartphone, but with it's larger screen, make it a lot more flexible in terms of what apps can be run on it.
      Axsimulate
    • @DAVE

      So, let me get this right...

      YOU, that would be DAVE, are slagging off a product that not only
      Apple have not released, but not announced.

      Buck you, you appear to have no ounce of sense or you are related to
      Ballmer.

      How about you grow up and slag this stuff off ONCE it is, like actually
      announced?

      Buck me, windows 8 is crap? How you like THEM apples?
      jgpmolloy
    • I'll buy one at 699 if it's real. A one function kindle is 359 nt

      nt
      Davewrite
      • At that price...

        I'd just get two netbooks instead. By the time this device makes an appearance, more netbooks will be available at $50 with a data plan.
        eMJayy
  • RE: Is Apple getting ready for an 'iPad'

    I posted a blog about this in
    http://www.telcomworld.com , basically they have
    already got the plan to launch their netbook
    FunkyGeek
  • RE: Is Apple getting ready for an 'iPad'

    FG, excellent blog! Well articulated. I agree that it appears
    Apple has a 'hole' in its product lineup that would be nicely
    filled by a small tablet. Echoes of the Newton come to mind,
    but this time priced to sell and with OS X it will redefine the
    market just as the iPhone has redefined smartphones.
    dheady@...
  • No issues on rewriting for the iPad... Just use scaling.

    From what I've seen the iPhone can already zoom and
    scale 2D. Scaling apps up to fill the whole screen
    shouldn't be an issue. Also this will give the opportunity for some apps to run in a smaller native
    window while keeping a touch keyboard on screen.
    VooDooAddict
  • RE: Is Apple getting ready for an 'iPad'

    http://jinishans.blogspot.com/2009/05/windows-7-release-candidate-rc-download.html

    Ive it already and writing this post from Win 7 RC from iso hunt, a ver of TechNet version (MD5 verified, but, get the Key from Windows 7 site). More info in my blog -
    jinishans
  • nt. wrong thread.

    nt
    Davewrite