December 04, 2008

Tablet talk

My recipe for the perfect tablet computer: take the nine or ten inch, 1024×600 screen that you generally see on netbooks these days, make it into a touch-screen, then glue the innards of an iPod Touch to the back of it. That’s it. The iPhone / iPod Touch UI is so incomparably good compared with any other touch-screen device – Tablet PC, UMPC, Windows Mobile device, Palm OS – that, for me, at least, a somewhat scaled-up version would hit the perfect sweet spot of being exactly what I need to cart around with me all day at work, and to slump on the sofa with at night. It’d be big enough to comfortably read the PDF and Word documents that make up the agendas and reports that fill my working day, and high enough resolution to make reading almost any web site easy, without requiring so much zooming and/or rotating to get the text to a workable size.

For bonus points:-

  1. Include some sort of note-taking app which syncs between the desktop, the device and the web. But if Apple don’t want to include this, it wouldn’t matter because Evernote already ticks this box, with desktop, web and iPhone clients available. And on a 1024×600 screen, the virtual keyboard is going to be big enough for even the clumsiest and least skilled user (that’s me) to type short notes and emails without difficulty.
  2. Give me an easy way to transfer PDF and other document files to and from the device without needing to email them to myself or use a third party app such as File Magnet or AirShare. But I could live without this.
  3. Include a SIM card socket so I can get at my stuff when I’m out of wifi coverage. Again, useful from time to time, but I’d buy with or without this built in.

It’s hard to find a tablet device that’s larger than a PDA which has been hugely successful, partly at least because the user experience always falters when the underlying OS – Windows, mostly – bleeds through the touch layer. But a device built on Mobile OS X wouldn’t have that problem, and I’d buy one in a heartbeat. Go on, Apple; build one for me.

- 9 comments by 6 or more people Not publicly viewable

[Skip to the latest comment]
  1. Mike Willis

    If you were feeling really adventurous with time on your hands, you could buy an Acer Aspire One and mod it in to a tablet like this guy did.

    04 Dec 2008, 12:42

  2. Steve Rumsby

    I like this idea a lot. There’s just one change I’d make. I’ve had a couple of convertible laptops now and I like them a lot, but as tablets they are very bulky. I’d love to be able to pick up the screen and leave the rest behind. That obviously means all the smarts need to be in the screen, which is basically a device like you describe. What’s left is a keyboard, some USB and other ports, and the optical drive. Call that lot a “docking station” and you have something that works like a netbook, with proper keyboard and suitable expandability, but that turns into a tablet with no excess fat. Just pick up the screen and go…

    Obviously there’s a bit more to this than Mobile MacOS X currently supports, but hopefully it isn’t too much of a stretch to add keyboard, USB and other support. Doubt it will happen, though!!

    04 Dec 2008, 14:02

  3. James Taylor

    I’ve never ever liked tablet PC’s as I’ve just never seen the point. Probably because all of the tablets I’ve seen have just been Windows that you can write on – what’s the selling point exactly? I can type a lot faster than I write!

    The iPhone has sold me that a touch based interface can work brilliantly – not only for menu navigation but for typing messages. A device exactly like you describe John would, I think, be a winner. We can only hope that Apple hurry up and get one to market..

    04 Dec 2008, 15:56

  4. Steve Rumsby

    Yes, a tablet with the iPhone interface would be a huge improvement on current tablets based on Windows XP/Vista, but still I find current tablets useful for a couple of reasons:
    • taking notes in meetings, where a laptop screen presents an unnecessary barrier between you and other participants. Not a problem in all-techie meetings, but in other contexts a tablet is much less in the way.
    • reviewing documents, where being able to scribble on the document is sometimes more convenient that typing comments
    • the tablet form-factor is much more convenient for idle surfing while slobbing on a sofa:-)

    OneNote was the piece of software that made tablets work for me. Evernote does almost as good a job now, and I’m slowly migrating to that and dropping OneNote.

    04 Dec 2008, 16:50

  5. John Dale

    I don’t know about the optical drive, Steve (what would it be for? Software for Mobile OS X is delivered via the App Store, not via disc), but I can see that being able to drive the device via a keyboard could sometimes be useful. I don’t know that I’d see it as a dock, though, so much as supporting something like the already-existing Apple wireless keyboard via bluetooth. Then the dock becomes nothing more, really, than a stand, which I guess you could imagine being built into the back of the device itself. (If it could be done in a tasteful, elegant, minimal way, of course. ;-)

    05 Dec 2008, 03:14

  6. Steve Rumsby

    Now that I have an iPhone, I carry a laptop around much less often than I used to. There are still times, though, when I need something more, and I’m trying to imagine what more I’d need in such a device to make a laptop redundant while travelling. Some of these things would need tweaks to Mobile OS X, so I’m not using its current capabilities as a constraint on my imagination! You’ve already said you’d want a way of getting files on and off the device. My suggestion of USB sockets on the “dock” is exactly for that – plugging in USB sticks. An SD card reader to get photos off a camera would be probably more useful to me. There’d be room for both of those somewhere on a 10” iPhone, though, wouldn’t there, leaving the “dock” just as a keyboard as you say.

    It has already occurred to me that a bluetooth keyboard with a stand would actually go a long way in itself to making the iPhone more of a laptop replacement, even without a bigger screen. If only Mobile OS X supported such things…

    All I’d need then is copy & paste and a Flash player:-)

    05 Dec 2008, 09:40

  7. I’ve been ranting about this concept to my friends for ages. I can’t believe Apple haven’t done it yet.

    07 Dec 2008, 17:53

  8. Steven Carpenter

    Watch this space, I have a tip ;-)

    16 Dec 2008, 21:28

  9. John Dale

    Is this Ezra Gottheil’s prediction of an Apple Netbook next year? If so, (a) I don’t believe it, and (b) it isn’t what I want anyway; I want an enlarged iPod Touch, not a shrunken Macbook.

    17 Dec 2008, 11:59

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