Can Apple make a Tablet PC "cool"?

Rumors are flying around claiming that Apple is secretly developing a Tablet PC. But keyboard-free, touch-screen portable PCs are nothing new, and over the past two decades history is littered with the corpses of failed ideas. Can Apple make a Tablet PC "cool"?

Rumors are flying around claiming that Apple is secretly developing a Tablet PC. But keyboard-free, touch-screen portable PCs are nothing new, and over the past two decades history is littered with the corpses of failed ideas. Can Apple make a Tablet PC "cool"?

It seems almost certain that Apple is working on some sort of Tablet PC, but as to the exact specs of the device we're still in the dark. But that hasn't stopped the rumor mill speculating as to how this new Apple product will save the newspaper industry, revolutionize ebooks and basically change the way that we look at everything, forever.

The predominant in technology is for things to get smaller. We had the mainframe, then the desktop system, then a notebook, followed by the netbook, and then the small ultra-portable smartphone. Apple's had a great deal of success in following this model, going from desktops to notebooks and then portable devices such as the iPod and iPhone. A Tablet PC is a step in the opposite direction for Apple, in going for something with a larger footprint.

I've always been intrigued by Tablet PCs, and a few years ago I really did think that there was a gap in the market for them. Now I'm not too sure. I wonder if smartphones and small devices such as the iPhone and iPod touch haven't made the tablet form factor somewhat obsolete. For Apple, introducing a new platform might be a good revenue generator (look at how Apple has wrung cash out of the iPhone platform), but chances are that any Apple tablet would be Mac OS X based (although we heard plenty early on about how Mac OS X-like the iPhone platform was).

Also, I really can't see how to make a Tablet PC cool. How do you integrate a tablet into your daily life? You can't tuck it into a pocket, which is a major drawback, so you're stuck lugging something around either under your arm or in a case. All of a sudden you have all the hassles of a notebook or netbook, with the added hassle that there's no clamshell protecting the screen from abuse. In theory, Tablet PCs seem like a cool idea, but outside of a few really small niches, tablets have more downsides than up.

Unless Apple's tablet has some super compelling feature, I just see the problem that it's trying to solve. Touch screen Tablet PC means an on-screen keyboard, which means you get at best a sucky keyboard that doesn't provide any tactile feedback. Add to that the fact that on-screen keyboards are a major screen hog. And don't get me started on how uncool pens or a stylus would be ...

Sure, Apple could release an ebook reader, or a newspaper reader, a portable gaming device, or maybe some sort of mobile mapping device, or a more general-purpose tablet, but it's tricky to see what niche Apple could be going after.

But then again, if Apple can make lugging a tablet around with you seem cool, then they could sell in the millions.