The iScreen: The Next Generation in Apple home entertainment

Early images in the iOS 5 developer framework are pointing towards a "Retinized" iPad 3. But what if it's something else entirely?
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Early images in the iOS 5 developer framework are pointing towards a "Retinized" iPad 3. But what if it's something else entirely?

Ahhhh. I love the smell of armchair tablet quarterbacking in the morning. It smells like... the lawn fertilizer that my landscaper is stinking up my neighborhood with.

Now, don't get me wrong. I like to speculate on what's going to be in the next iPad as much as the next guy. In fact I'm probably the leading speculator on ZDNet when it comes to prognosticating on technologies Apple may or may not integrate into future products.

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But sometimes you need to re-examine the quarterbacking and think about whether or not it actually makes any sense, even though compelling evidence would seem to indicate a perfectly good reason for validating it.

Case in point, this entire question of whether or not the next iPad is going to be "Retinized", based on evidence in an iOS 5 developer framework containing double-resolution images designed for a QXGA 2048x1536 display.

Now, while this would seem to indicate that Apple is staying with a golden ratio of 4:3, I'm not sure this is the smoking gun that the next iPad is going to have a resolution this impressive.

For starters, I think that any 10.1" display with that level of resolution is going to be extremely expensive to make. Unless Apple's IPS LCD supplier, LG Display or another partner has come up with some ground-breaking way to make smaller screens super high-res at a very cheap price, there's no way Apple could continue to offer its current iPad line at a $500.00 entry price point using a high-resolution display component utilizing current production methods.

I think that the iPad 3 may very well have an enhanced resolution, possibly UXGA (1600x1200) but I believe at least for several years, until this type of high-density small display technology is heavily commoditized and manufacturing economies of scale are achieved, we're not likely to see any kind of $500 tablet with the kind of pixel density that is currently being alluded to.

Additionally, to drive a QXGA display, you're going to need a considerable amount of GPU horsepower compared to what is shipping in the current A5, particularly if you start pushing extremely detailed 3D alpha blended graphics using the next generation of gaming technology.

nVidia has demonstrated 12-core GPUs in it's "Kal-El" tablet platform, but we don't know how hot that chip gets or how much of a power consumption compromise that relates to in the real world. One would assume Apple would need similar horsepower if not more than what the "Kal-El" can achieve to drive 3D games on a QXGA display.

That could be very impractical to do on a tablet and would sacrifice a great deal of battery life, something Apple would never want.

So what do these developer framework images really point to?

Well, I think it's a new animal entirely. Or a new species of iOS device.

For the last few years, I've been talking about a theoretical device called "The Screen". This would essentially be a Cloud-enabled smart terminal that would replace most traditional desktop computers in both the enterprise and also in the consumer space.

Originally, I thought this device could be Linux-based. Certainly, there's no reason to think that Google or someone else, even Microsoft might not build such a theoretical device running on their respective platforms. I said as much in the original piece.

But now that I've had some time to think about it, and given recent developments with iOS in the past year, I believe Apple will be the first to come to market with one of these products, just as they pioneered with the iPad.

Enter the iScreen -- a High-Definition monitor, with a 4:3 ratio running on iOS, on some future variant of the iPad/Apple TV hardware reference platform.

The actual configuration of this device could come in a variety of form factors. Initially, this "iScreen" could just simply be the next Apple TV -- a small box that connects to any HD monitor of your choice, perhaps even include a Thunderbolt port to hook up to a QXGA display (a new, larger-format Cinema, perhaps?) that Apple might sell optionally.

QXGA is even higher-res than 1080p, or the native resolution of Blu-Ray on your living room's HDTV set. So it's perfectly suited to playing all types of multimedia content. And it also makes sense to manufacture displays in excess of 30" with this resolution rather than on a 10.1" tablet, because the price of home theatre LCD displays has dropped considerably.

So it wouldn't surprise me to see an actual Apple-branded television in the $1500 price range, with all of this integrated iOS stuff built-in.

If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. First, it allows Apple to have a transitional product in play that bridges the gap between current generation Macs running on OS X Lion on Intel x86 to some future unified Mac OS/iOS platform that runs on multi-core ARM.

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Second, it also will allow them to better leverage the App Store and iCloud ecosystem in the living room, and to provide a viable alternative to existing pay-per month subscriber services such as Cable TV, FiOS or DBS-based satellite television services such as DirecTV or Dish Network.

They are already doing this with Apple TV to some extent, but this would also whack other players in the entertainment space such as SONY, Microsoft and Nintendo with their respective PlayStation, XBOX and Wii platforms.

This iOS-based screen, which would most likely use something like the Magic Trackpad or an iPad or iPhone with AirPlay as input devices, would be the home entertainment nexus of the future.

For some people, depending on the size of the monitor this platform is connected to, it might actually replace a Mac or a PC entirely, especially if they are content consumers rather than creators. In the same sense that an iPad is a "Big iPhone", well, this would just be a "Big iPad".

Just wirelessly connect Magic Trackpad and Bluetooth keyboard, and you're all set to go.

Let's face it, in Steve Jobs' "Post-PC" world, not everyone needs a Mac or a PC. Maybe they can get along fine with an iPad, and/or something like this.

Is the "iScreen" coming to a desktop or your living room in 2012? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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