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Why do we need an Apple tablet?

, posted: 19-Jan-2010 13:05

Luckily for all the rumour pundits out there Apple have finally sent out the official invitations for their upcoming event next Wednesday Jan 27th at 10.00am US PST which is Thursday 28th at 7.00am NZ time. 

Over the last few weeks Apple has done their usual great job of controlled leaks to whip up a frenzy of pre-announcement excitement. Latest rumours are that it might cover the so called iTablet, iLife 2010 AND iPhone 4.0 OS. Wow! If so it will be very interesting to see if they are tied together or it is just a convenient time to announce them all.

Amidst this hype it seems to me that there are two important questions regarding the tablet: 

1. What new features/capabilities will this tablet have that requires a new hardware platform, rather than utilise existing devices? 

2. Is there really a big enough new market for what must surely be an expensive device? 

The one content area that Apple doesn’t distribute themselves is e-newspapers, e-books and e-zines. While a number of 3rd parties offer e-readers for the iPhone they differ in function and content and Apple will have noticed the success that Amazon is getting with the Kindle. To generate the type of growth that Apple likes it is probably time for them to take control of this content distribution - perhaps as another feed inside of iTunes. The venerable iTunes has certainly come a long way.

It is also likely that in embracing existing content Apple will extend it - will make possible the creation of new kinds of multi-media publications that can only be distributed by Apple.

Even so - all of this could be distributed to existing devices - iPhone/iPod touch, Macs and Macbooks. Perhaps the table/e-reader form factor is fundamentally better suited to print-like content as has been highlighted by the Kindle - it is hard for us to see that from NZ.

It is hard to see a large new customer segment being opened up by what must be a fairly expensive device. If the iPhone 3GS 32GB is NZ$1,349 and the cheapest Macbook is NZ1,699 then the tablet could well be at least NZ$1,500. If there are features that limit the new content to the tablet then that will upset existing customers and harm sales of those devices. Perhaps the new content will just work better on the tablet so as to prompt existing iPhone & Macbook users to also purchase it. 

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that sales of the new tablet may not hugely increase total hardware sales for Apple as there will be some canibalisation of other devices (surely someone will create a plug-in keyboard/dock so it replaces a Macbook) and it is too expensive to open up a large new market. But that’s OK because it is really the Hero device to promote a whole new category of print related content in electronic format. And their new advertising distribution mechanism from the recent Quattro Wireless purchase will be plugged right into it.

It’s also worth considering whether this tablet will be a mobile device and have 3G mobile data access to the internet for an ‘always connected’ experience? You’d have to think so in which case it will presumably be sold via mobile carriers with a subsidy - although possibly with a mobile data plan only - so less subsidy. What frequencies will it support? This new content will be data intensive so will really require HSDPA. Apple have been told loud and clear by a number of Asia/Pac and European mobile operators that they need to support the 900MHz 3G frequency  in addition to 850MHz so keep an eye out for that.
EDIT: What if the tablet was designed to pair to an iPhone for cellular connectivity?

So stay tuned to your favourite gadget website from 7.00am on Thursday Jan 28th (for NZ readers) who will no doubt be live blogging from the Apple event.

Other related posts:
Brands producing apps only for iPhone
Steve Jobs: Rock Star!
The features Kiwis miss out on with Android 1.6

Comment by Geek, on 19-Jan-2010 14:14

Apple did not see the explosion of small PC's (netbooks) and had nothing to offer. It is now entering the market with a product packaged as a tablet. Strip away the marketing and it is a netbook without the keyboard. Apple jumped started its lame PC sales years ago by providing colors and since then has excelled at making money by charging a premium for design over performance with the notable I-Pod and I - Tunes exception. I will like others be interested in what Apple has to show but a PC without a keyboard will not find its way in my travel bag.

Comment by Dr. Tablet, on 19-Jan-2010 14:54

You raise some interesting points, but I think we're going to see the tablet positioned as an eventual replacement for the low-end plastic Macbook. Steve Jobs has a real dislike of feature duplication across his product lines, and the 13" MacBook is very similar to the 13" MacBook aluminum. The other thing is that I think Apple has a killer-app for the tablet. Why? Because so many other manufacturers have tried & failed to make tablets catch on. Apple wouldn't bother with the space at all unless they thought they had something *really* compelling. I wrote an article detailing some of the reasons why I think the tablet will succeed: http://drtablet.com/2010/01/18/why-the-apple-tablet-wont-fail/

Comment by sbiddle, on 19-Jan-2010 16:05

I'm no Apple fanboi but if Apple can deliver a tablet that delivers on many of the rumors and includes the ability to purchase books, magazines and newspapers then I can see myself being sold on one.

Comment by Buttonmash, on 19-Jan-2010 20:12



Author's note by timmyh, on 19-Jan-2010 20:50

Just had a thought - what if the tablet was designed to pair to an iPhone to use as a modem for mobile internet access? 
Not putting a cellular radio inside would keep the cost down and avoid complicated relationships with mobile carriers.

Author's note by timmyh, on 20-Jan-2010 09:12

@Buttonmash: point taken. I'm not saying that the tablet won't be very successful - it will - but that a good proportion of those sales could be at the expense of iPhone or Macbook sales. 
Apple of course has looked at all of this - so what I will be interested to see is the compelling argument they make for why I need an iPhone and a tablet and a Mac/Macbook.

Comment by Buttonmash, on 20-Jan-2010 16:14

I was just heckling because I've seen a few comments recently asking why do we need a tablet?

Speculation at this point is probably a little premature considering nothing official has come out of Apple yet.

I'm intrigued to see how this turns out, and why I might want one.  At this point I expect to see another niche product like the MacBook Air rather than a groundbreaker like an iPhone.

Of course the interface is another thing entirely.  I'm confident they'll change the way the other companies are looking at their tablets.  Microsoft have had Tablet PCs since November 2002 and they're still horrible.

Comment by stuzzo, on 20-Jan-2010 22:58

Ultimately the consumer decides if the Tablet will be successful, not Apple. The logic is that the phone is too small and the laptop is too clumsy for certain types of media e.g books. Apple is a company that needs to innovate to survive as they don't compete on price. The itouch is scavenging their ipod sales. Do they care about that? No.

Comment by euanandrews, on 21-Jan-2010 15:36

Personally, I don't see any tablet, regardless of the manufactorer is, becoming a great success...

It's all about the size and form factor...

Is it small enough to be portable and pocketable?
Or is it large enough to be full featured?

Smart phones are getting pretty big these days, and they can do everything already...

If you want more powerfull, and a full hardware keyboard, then there are small laptops or netbooks available...

A tablet, on the other hand, if going by general speculation as to size, will likely be too big to put in your pocket, but to small to be a full power, full feaured device like a laptop...

And if we use previous Apple devices as an guide, then it will certainly not be the most powerfull or fully featured in it's size class...Apple strive for high quality design and user expereince...not power, features or price point.

It will be a novelty item, a shiny toy for avid Apple fans and those who want the latest 'cool' gadget.

I'm not sold.

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timmyh's profile

Tim Hayward
New Zealand

Former 'Head of Smartphones' at Vodafone New Zealand Marketing from 2006 to 2009. Looked after all key Smartphone platforms, mobile pricing plans, marketing and sales GTM activity.

Now working on mobile application development consulting and delivery especially on projects requiring support across multiple mobile platforms (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian). Please contact me if you have any projects you'd like us to consult or quote on: tim@hayward.net.nz