Gadget websites and the mainstream media have been abuzz in anticipation of 27 January, the date that Apple has booked the Yerba Buana Centre for the Arts. In the past this venue has been used for big announcements and the word is that Apple will unveil a new “tablet” computer, something a bit like this.
A tablet computer is a large screen without a keyboard, and is likely to provide much of the non-telephone services of a smart phone with the added benefit of also acting like a kindle style e-reader with the added benefit of colour and disadvantage of not using e-ink. It will also be lacking the keyboard of a netbook.
Even if the chatter is correct, Apple aren’t the only ones getting in on the act, with a large number of tablet computers and e-readers being launched recently at CES 2010, a high profile industry convention.
And thus, 2010 has been tipped to be the year of the tablet computer. But Microsoft and others have been pushing the tablet for at least a decade, with only niche business users grabbing. The tablet until now has been branded irrelevant to the mass audience. What will change, apart from the coolness and wow factor that comes with any new Apple marketing push? (That’s not fair, they do have a knack for hitting the usability killer punch on emerging trends.)
The important innovations will be all about content, not gadgetry. There have been reports that Apple has been negotiating with media companies to provide content. Think NYT, Conde Nast and HarperCollins. This news, in the context of a likely tablet release, indicates that Apple are ensuring that the new device can provide something unique to consumers not currently available on existing devices. In other words, you’ll need and iphone, macbook and an itablet.
This has implications for the News Ltd. desire to start charging subscriptions for content too, with a new delivery mechanism that is not paper and is more suited to subscriptions than traditional news-media websites, which people resist paying for when they’ve been free for so long. When Rupert Murdoch announced plans to paywall much of the News Ltd. content online, he was largely derided as an aging dinosaur struggling to understand the new media landscape. Perhaps the old lizard new something that we didn’t.
Update: It’s out.