Requisite Apple Tablet Predictions

Author’s Note: I wrote this rather quickly.  Not a great excuse, I know, but I’ll still reserve the right to come back during the course of the next few days to edit / correct spelling errors and the like.  I do, after all, have a real job.

Since everyone and their grandmother have something to say about the no-one’s-really-sure-but-all-signs-are-pointing-to-it-and-gosh-darn-it-it’s-about-time-don’t-hold-out-on-us-Steve Apple Tablet, I thought I’d get a few thoughts in as well.  Well, two actually.

I think the Tablet / Slate / Whatever-it’ll-be-called will give us a decent (if not outright) glimpse of the next paradigm in computing.  It probably won’t be all 3D and voice activated, but it will be pretty noticeable and different.  [Ed. Note: I’m still kind of wondering about the voice control, but I’m not sure.]

First, there will be a shift away from “applications” as we think of them today toward a more file-and-task-based approach.  The iPhone / Touch App Store and OS X interface are the best clues in that direction.

I know I just referred to the “App Store”, but think about the way you use those applications for a second.  Primarily, your interaction with them is task-oriented.  "I want to make a call.“  "I want to get some directions.”  "I want to listen to some music.“  "I want to convert kilometres into miles.”  And even those tasks can be condensed into statements like “I want to interact / communicate with someone.”; “I want to be entertained.”; and, “I want to get some information.”

The second set of clues, partly from the iPhone / Touch interface and partly from trends in the most recent iterations of OS X, is the implementation of Spotlight, Coverflow, and Quicklook.

(My apologies to Windows users who have no idea what I’m talking about.  Google is your friend.)

The first, Spotlight, gives you almost-instantaneous access to any file on your computer / mobile device.  The second , Coverflow, brings about a much more tactile interface experience.  And finally, Quicklook, lets you access *a lot* of information without – wait for it – launching an application.  Surprise, surprise.

And the third clue is, I think, Apple TV.  Yes, really.  Even though it’s just a “hobby” for Apple.

When you think about it, the majority of users (my parents included) use their computers for a rather small number of tasks: e-mailing, Skyping, and video chatting with friends and family (communication); watching videos, listening to music, looking at pictures, and playing solitaire (entertainment); and getting directions to visit the aforementioned people, getting recipes to entertain the aforementioned people, and visiting websites – like Facebook – to find out more about the aforementioned people.  Oh, and the news and weather, of course.  All of which fall into the “information” category.  (I realise I’m being a bit facetious, but you get my point, I’m sure.)

Now, think about Apple TV (and XBMC, and Plex, and Boxee, etc.) for a second.  Stripped-down interface.  Check.  Not-too-steep learning curve.  Check.  Access to much of the above.  Check.  All of which is to say, while the new device won’t be exactly like the Apple TV, it will probably start a push toward a similar philosophy in UI design.

Now for the second, somewhat smaller, prediction.  We will also see a strong push by Apple to do away with the traditional use of mouse and keyboard for the majority of computer users.  (People in my parents’ demographic, I mean.)

Again, looking to the iPhone / Touch, we’ve seen that Apple not only implemented – and successfully, at that – a software keyboard, but they’ve also resisted any calls for the enabling of Bluetooth keyboards and such.  (And Apple, I’m sure you know, makes some fantastic Bluetooth peripherals.)  This is just a continuation of Apple’s insistance on “educating”, shall we say, users and more-or-less dragging them, kicking and screaming, away from devices and “features” that have often been considered must-haves.

(The classic example is, of course, the first iMac and its lack of a floppy disk drive.  Oh the pain that decision cost.  But you can see this progressive education even in the way iPhoto and iMovie and their ilk change from version to version.  It’s for this reason also that I very much doubt we’ll ever see a Blu-ray drive on a Mac.  And while we’re on the topic, seriously, what kind of hacked-together product name is “Blu-ray”?)

The other recent innovation that, I think, hints at this is, perhaps ironically, the new Magic Mouse.  (Which I love, by-the-way.)  Again, we can see the education process at work – no traditional buttons, fantastic gesture support, and more tactile interaction.  It’s not a giant leap, in one sense, but it’s defintely a nudge in the right direction.

Bonus prediction:  "Cloud computing".  (Buzzword, FTW!)  MobileMe is the clue, of course.  And that new data centre they’re building.  It’s the future, etc.

And there you have it.  I have no contacts anywhere, so I can’t really guess anything as to hardware and the like.  But, being a happy Apple customer, and an avid reader of the usual suspects, these are my thoughts on the way computing is going.  Of course, with my luck, the tablet will probably ship with a dock, Apple Wireless Keyboard, Magic Mouse, and built-in Blu-ray drive.  Oh well.

Cheers.  And apologies (sort of) for the longer than usual post.