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Apple's next step

This is prognostication without information. Do not mistake it for TRVTH. Feel free to point and laugh when Apple announce something completely different next January!

Leaving aside purely local issues (such as an iPhone 4 that works on Verizon's CDMA network in the USA — not terribly interesting to non-Americans), I think Apple will, in 2011, seek to revive the Macbook Pro range, differentiating it from the Macbook and Macbook Air by adding new tech. Intel's LightPeak optical bus looks set to offer a long-term replacement for Firewire and, probably, USB 3.0 (which hasn't gained traction — at least with Cupertino). And when Intel get over their packaging issues, there's a chance that the Macbook Air range will get a modern CPU — probably Core i3, once it's lost enough girth to fit in a slim case.

But Macs are so 21st century ... the iOS platform seems to be the future for Apple, but I think there's a gap in the range.

We can be fairly certain that Apple is gearing up to launch a second-generation iPad in early 2011. What will it look like?

The current devices are all based on the Apple A4 chipset, an ARM Cortex A8 with on-board PowerVR SGX GPU and a hunk each of DRAM and FLASH storage. Apple spent a lot of money developing this chipset, and I think it's unlikely they'll feel any pressure to replace it before 2012 — it's still comparable to other ARM phone and tablet chipsets. They may add RAM to it -- the iPad currently has 256Mb; the iPhone 4 has 512Mb -- more memory would enhance multi-tasking. So I see a new iPad having more memory than the first generation model. But the PowerVR GPU limits the display resolution that an A4 powered device can drive. In particular, it's sold by Intel as their GMA500 graphics chipset -- as used in a variety of Atom-powered netbooks. (Hang onto that thought ...)

There are a variety of rumours circulating around the new iPad. There will probably be a front-facing camera, for FaceTime. (That's a no-brainer given Apple's push towards Facetime everywhere, and would be dirt cheap to add to the product.) There may be a side-mounted dock connector, so it can be used in landscape with the iPad keyboard dock. (I think this is a red herring; more likely, the keyboard dock will be quietly discontinued, and the iPad functionality rolled into a revved version of the Apple wireless keyboard.) There may be a new casing made out of stiffened carbon fibre (nice, but it implies a major change to Apple's design language). And there may be a retina display. (I think this is a red herring promoted by engineering illiterates. To achieve the same resolution as the iPhone 4, a current-size iPad would feature roughly 2000x1600 pixels — there's no way a PowerVR SGX is going to drive the equivalent of a 27" desktop display!)

One rumour folks are discounting is a 7" mini-iPad. They discount it because Steve Jobs said there wouldn't be one. I think there will be a 7" iPad because ...

Firstly: Steve Jobs routinely lies about unreleased products. He does so with a straight face, as little as three months before he turns round and ships a device or product that he was denouncing as "useless" and "unsalable" earlier. He did it with ebooks (see the iBook store), he did it with the iPhone, he did it with the migration to Intel processors, he did it with [fill in the gap yourself]. If Steve Jobs dismisses a product category, then all you can read from his dismissal is that the category in question is on his radar.

Secondly: his stated reasons for not releasing a 7" iPad are transparent bullshit. "We think the screen is too small to express the software" — tell that to millions of iPod Touch users. "We know developers aren't going to deal well with these different sizes and they have to change their software every time the screen size changes." Which explains why the iPhone 4, the iPad, and the iPhone 3GS all run at different resolutions. "We're all about making the best products at aggressive prices and that's what we do, and that's what we will do with the iPad and iPod." Which is disingenuous.

What I think is: Apple is positioning themselves for dominance in an entirely new market, namely curated computing platforms with multitouch interfaces. They currently have a range with two form factors -- phone-sized, and a large tablet. However, Apple usually pursues a sales strategy that presents the user with three overlapping value propositions: viz. three sized of Macbook Pro, three sizes of iMac (until recently), three families of laptop (Macbook, Macbook Air, Macbook Pro), and so on. The iOS range is currently too narrow to do that.

I expect the January announcement to do two things:

* Announce upgrades to the current iPad: more RAM, more FLASH, front-mounted camera, side-mounted dock connector, or even a USB port.

* Possibly announce a new chipset -- call it the A8 -- based on a dual core ARM Cortex A10 and a better GPU, the two cores running at 1.2GHz. This would go with a higher resolution display in an "iPad Pro" — a high end machine targeting gamers, folks who want to watch HD movies in true 1080p resolution, and developers. It would represent a broadening of the goals of the platform as well, opening up more professional applications as the iOS ecosystem matures.

* Probably announce a 7" "iPad mini". This will have an A4 with the same amount of RAM as the iPhone 4, and a display with the same resolution as the iPhone 4 — 960x640 or iPad — 1024 x 768. This will be a jacket-pocket sized device with a noticably sharper-looking display than the current iPad (because it's smaller). It'll ditch the current iPad on-screen keyboard, and use the iPhone on-screen keyboard instead — it's suitable for two-finger or thumb-typing on a device that size. Some rewriting of iPad or iPhone apps will be needed to get the most out of it, but it will run iPhone 4 or iPad apps straight out of the box (albeit with large or tiny user interface elements, depending on which platform the apps were originally scaled for). The developers will suck it up, as they did with the resolution change to the iPhone 4, and roll out updates rapidly.

* Change pricing. The iPhone will stay where it is. The iPod Touch will be pushed down a little, especially at the bottom end. The large iPad will be pushed up slightly, especially if it gains new features (especially true if it gets a new chipset). The iPad Mini will be squeezed in the middle — a bottom-spec one will be maybe 10% pricier than an equivalent tier iPod Touch, and a top-spec one will be slightly cheaper than an equivalent spec iPad.

As for me, would I buy a 7" iPad?

Well, the full-sized first-gen iPad is the best ebook reader I've ever owned — except that it's heavy. With a case on, it weighs 50% more than a 400 page hardback. What I'd kill for would be much the same guts, squished into a case the size of the Sony Pocket Reader or, at most, the basic Amazon Kindle, at the weight of a paperback (250-400 grams). If you want an ebook platform the regular iPad is comparable to the Kindle DX; however, the iPhone/iPod touch is too small. The current iPad requires a shoulder bag or backpack. A 7" iPad, in contrast, would stick to my pocket like glue, everywhere I go. I'd buy the bottom end model with 8Gb or 16Gb of FLASH and no SIM slot, and I'd use it as an app platform (games and information) and ebook reader.

81 Comments

1:

I've played with both an iPad and a Galaxy Tab, and the 7" long form factor of the tab is a major win. Also, the Tab is light enough that I can hold it in one hand without getting tired; there is no way I could hold the iPad for fifteen minutes without shoulder pain. The size really is near-perfect; in fact, if I didn't have to pay for another phone subscription I would have gotten the Tab already. Docomo should get their act together and offer a two-device plan.

I would expect that a 6" to 7" iPad to be pretty much inevitable, and I'd even expect the current iPad to become a niche device for people that really need the larger size.

2:

I put off getting an iPad for a while, because I wanted something with the same functionality that I could slip into my pocket. I kind of wish I'd waited a bit longer if your speculations are true, but I'm happy with my big iPad. It's good for reading large format PDFs that would be a little more awkward in a smaller format, and not terribly inconvenient to carry. A version with a camera would be cool, though, and I'd still like a USB slot.

3:

iPad... interesting device, love it or hate, you've got to admit, it is, at the least, interesting. However, I'm waiting for the "One Year Later" stories to find out how many people are still using it (or, less weightedly) what they're still using it for.

(personally I bought a new laptop rather than an ipad, however I dithered for monts).

4:

If looking for three sizes of iOS, isn't there already three, if you count iPod Touch as the entry level, consumer variant? (Middle-size iPad could still very well be on it's way, of course.)

5:

I'd like to have a *larger* iPad that I can see a full A4 page on at full res, so that I could use it for sheet music. I've seen music readers for the iPad but you can't escape the fact that you can't see enough music in one go.

I'd also want a mechanism other than ispawnofthedevilTunes to transfer and synch the files.

6:

How about an iPad that doesn't need to be docked to a desktop?

7:

Nope, the iPod Touch has the same screen size/resolution and CPU as the iPhone 4. Physical layout-wise, it's also the same form factor.

8:

Apple's next step

I see what you did there.

I find your ideas intriguing. I'd thought that LightPeak wasn't going to be available until late 2011 (ie, too late for an April MBP update), but I've thought a lot of crazy things that turned out not to be so.

Any thoughts on the feasibility of dropping the optical drives altogether from the laptop line? This seems like madness to me but I can't tell if I'm in the minority here.

9:

If apple were looking at a Q1 launch would we not be seeing leaks from manufacturers that are supplying the 7" screens? In the run up to the iPad release there were more leaks than a certain wiki based website could shake a stick at.

10:

Any thoughts on the feasibility of dropping the optical drives altogether from the laptop line?

They did that last month (he says, typing on a three week old Macbook Air, which shipped with a recovery USB key instead of a recovery DVD). More seriously, the SuperDrive is a fine solution to a legacy problem, and I suspect once the Mac App Store is up and running they'll consider using the extra space in the body of the Macbook Pro as an option for an extended life battery -- you could get 12 hours out of an MBP easily if you ditched the optical drive, or you could lighten it by 300 grams and market it as a beefier Macbook Air for power users.

11:

> Any thoughts on the feasibility of dropping the optical drives altogether from the laptop line?

Doesn't sound so unlikely to me. My current Thinkpad (granted, a 12-inch form factor machine) has no optical drive, unlike my previous 12-inch laptop which weighed quite a lot more as a result. I suppose some people still buy CDs and DVDs, but it's not like you can't have an external drive, and generally you don't want to use an optical drive when the laptop isn't well settled, so during travel and such it probably doesn't get missed.

12:

So your new years resolution lasted 10 months. I'll let you off as there was little point keeping it when it would cost you £50 more just for the feel good factor.

13:

Actually, it lasted 370 days -- from November 6th 2009 through to November 11th 2010.

I announced it as a New Year's Resolution, but I actually stopped the random buying of Shiny! goodness in November. As I've got business in London this week for which I need a laptop -- heavy typing ahoy -- I decided to move early rather than schlep an elderly Macbook Pro with a fading battery around. (I have a somewhat dodgy back and can feel every gram on my shoulders.)

14:

I personally have zero desire for a 7" iPad. It's too big for my pocket comfortably, and too small to read comfortably.

I do know that I don't care for the resolution of apps designed for the iPhone (I press the 2x button to make them larger on my iPad).

But if others want them, that's fine. Just make apps that look good on my medium choice.

15:

I see that Mac OS X-lion seems to corroborate this path to some extent. They are starting to bring some features of iOS back into the Mac line.

16:

No problem with the purchase, but is it the 11 or 13".

17:

The issue with the smaller MacBook models is not just about Intel's packaging, but also chipset support. You have to use an Intel chipset with the i3/i5/i7 chips but the integrated GPUs a) aren't fast enough for Apple's liking and b) don't support OpenCL (and won't in the next revision either).

Hence Apple is still using NVidia chips with Core 2 Duos - it's the only way they can currently deliver a 2-chip solution (space & heat constraints) with sufficient graphics performance. (In the 15" and 17" they have room for a dedicated GPU, so no problem.)

18:

FWIW, I hope you're wrong about iOS being the future, as it's not a computer anymore at that point. Though with what has been shown wrt 10.7 worries me some...

All that being said, for a 7" tablet, I would be quite tempted by an "iPad mini"...as long as the price isn't ugly like the Galaxy Tab's price is. I'm also hoping that HP comes out with a webOS tablet of that size - I *really* like webOS, though I think it's all but dead at this point... :(

19:

I reckon you're wrong, but iOS isn't going to be a full-fledged general purpose platform for a while yet.

I think Apple are trying to force-grow a third party ecosystem around iOS as fast as they can, out of fear that Windows 8 will eliminate their edge on the desktop; just as the 128K Mac did away with arrow keys to force early-adopter developers to write GUI apps rather than porting terminal apps to the new platform, so the early iOS machines are locked down and subject to veto by Apple -- who want to prevent iOS turning into just another target for platform-independent Java/Flash/.NET stuff.

But once they've hit critical mass (by late 2011 or early 2012, if current predictions of the tablet market are anything to go by) they'll need to open up iOS to developers/OEMs/power users in order to exploit the business markets that they will otherwise miss out on -- as they did with the Mac in the early days by focussing on education/home use.

20:

I have a 12" x61 tablet with a ips type display running at sxga+ 1400 × 1050. It's definitely to heavy to simply hold for long periods

I plan to buy a notion ink adam with a pixel qi display in due course, which is designed to be carried in one hand etc

21:

(Sorry in advance for the Linux/Android centric discussion of 7" tablets. But a year of experience with the 7" form factor would seem germane to the topic and Android tablets are the only players out there at present.)

Well I've been continuously using one 7" tablet or another for the past year now. I started out with the SmartQ7 running a Debian ARM distro and then moved on to a variety of Android tablets (Archos 7HT, SmartQ V7, Eken M001, Maylong M-150) all very serviceable and with the latter two costing under $100 almost impossible to make a shiny object saving throw against.

I also have a 12" Fujitsu ST5032D running Ubuntu and a 10" ZT-180 Android tablet to compare against. The 7" tablets, particularly the Archos, win hands down for continuous use. They easily fit in a jacket pocket, have reasonable battery life, are feather light (when I picked up an iPad on display at the Apple store I was shocked at how heavy the unit was) and verge on cheap enough to be disposable. While the (custom firmware) Archos seems to be stuck on Android 1.5 this isn't much of a problem in that the two essential Apps, Aldiko (eBooks) and ACV (Comics/Manga) run fine. The resistive touchscreens are slightly annoying but largely a non-issue once one masters a percussive tap. The stock 800x480 TFT displays are fine for eBooks, video and browsing but are slightly suboptimal for manga (very fine print text (as in Negima) can be illegible). The color nook 1024 x 600 IPS display w/ OMAP processor looks to fix that, but seriously needs rooting.

When in a hotel or my parents house my 10" ZT-180 wins out due to the larger screen and higher resolution, but outside of short runs out to local restaurants and cafes, a 7" tablet wins out.

22:

Did Apple spend a lot of money on developing the A4 or did they just buy it in from Samsung? Not only do Samsung manufacture it, they also use a near identical lump of silicon (yet with better GPU specs) in their Galaxy S and Tab devices.

Apple certainly spent a lot of money to buy the chip designers who worked with Samsung on it, but that was later and nothing they've done on while on Apple's payroll has been seen yet I believe. Apple have also marketed the hell out of the A4 as if it was some secret sauce. (For laughs you can go back and read all the the wide eyed pronouncements from Apple bloggers who got an early look at the iPad and who thought the A4 was powered by the tears of special Apple-raised unicorn and there was no way that competitors, like say Samsung, could ever match it).

23:

It's a bit early for dual Cortex A10 - expect any dual core A series processor form Apple to be an A9 (after all, that's what everyone else is shipping). But yes, clocked at over 1GHz, and with a hefty GPU.

I'm quite impressed by what I've seen of the BlackBerry PlayBook. I think it's the first real iPad competitor (the Galaxy Tab is just Dom Joly's smartphone, and we won't really see an effective Android tablet until Honeycomb ships).

24:

I have experience of other tablet formats -- notably the Nokia web tablets running Maemo (N770, N800, N810) and WinXP (gack) on the Viliv S5 (lovely hardware, utterly unsuitable OS, firmware locked down to prevent it running anything else). I've also used eink devices (notably the Sony Reader(s)).

I'd say a 7" 480x800 screen is minimal these days, but acceptable as an ebook reader. Given an 8-9 hour battery life the eink devices' single advantage is fatally eroded (modern LCDs are more readable except in direct sunlight -- they're even competitive outdoors on an overcast day).

25:

Not quite a year yet, but I did end up with one on release day.

I keep using it. I've mostly used it for reading ebooks, but I also occasionally watch videos on it. (I've got the first three seasons of Coupling on it, for example. And all three episodes of Sherlock.)

I play a rare game on it, and I've used it to track the weight for some kittens we were fostering for a while.

I'll do quick email reads on my iPhone, but if I have to compose a longish response, I'll use the iPad.

26:

who want to prevent iOS turning into just another target for platform-independent Java/Flash/.NET stuff

Wouldn't it be at least equally accurate to say that by supporting (HTML5 etc.) and co-developing (WebKit) Web standards, thus requiring non-standard or proprietary tech like the above to be server-based and -delivered, they are redistributing CPU cycles to the cloud from a severely resource-constrained platform? Just pointing out the free win for non-iOS mobile devices.

Though conventional wisdom could be right re iOS bending further to enterprise needs, it appears that the popularity of iPhones and now iPads are also driving the enterprise to accommodate iOS. It may even herald a convergence of the enterprise and consumer markets — notice how Find My iPad is now free with 4.1, and haven't they been supporting Exchange for a while?

In a weird way the iDevices are the second coming of the Mac, except this time the value of the new paradigm is compelling to not only the usual forward-looking geeks (like ourselves) but a mass public that 25 years of the previous GUI paradigm has educated via Windows and Mac OSes.

27:

In a weird way the iDevices are the second coming of the Mac

There's nothing weird about it.

I got a shiver of recognition when I first slid my iPad into the keyboard dock -- I'd seen this before. But where? It took me a while to realize that I was looking at the silhouette of a Mac Classic, seen from in front and slimmed down (in terms of depth) until it was almost unrecognizable.

I think Steve Jobs has a vision of some kind of Platonic ideal of a gadget. Lisa and then the more commercial Macintosh 128K was the first attempt at making it. The iPhone and now iPad is the second attempt. (I don't count the Newton, which was John Sculley's project.) There have been other try-outs along the way: the Apple //c, the iMac, the iBook, the TiBook, and so on. But with each release, he's clearly driving his vehicle -- Apple -- closer towards producing some kind of archetype.

I suspect what's in Steve Jobs' head and trying to get out is a vision of a thing that resembles a single sheet of US Letter sized paper in both area and thickness, with a print-quality display, infinite battery life (solar powered?), and maxing out the envelope defined by physics for a computing and communicating device of that size. This magic thing will contain the sum total of human knowledge, beautifully typeset and presented to the user in whatever way injects it into their brain with maximum efficiency. It's supposed to anticipate their needs and cater to their every whim, be easy enough to use for a 2 year old or a 90 year old to grasp intuitively .... oh, and everyone will want one badly enough to tithe Steve a tenth of their income in perpetuity out of gratitude for being allowed to own a piece of his imagination.

28:

Processors like the A4 are box-of-Legos designs that can be laid out to provide as little or as much engine power as the designers want (cache, optional processing units, threading support, memory busses etc.) then rolled out in a fab-for-hire anywhere on the planet for minimal unit cost. ARM are the kings of this business but others have moved into the same marketplace as costs have come down and the logistics of taping out a design, proofing it and then moving forward into manufacturing production devices have reduced the cycle time from years to months.

29:

I think your predictions make a lot of sense. I do think the low-end price of the iPad will come down, or else they'll sell the current model iPad at a discount the way they do with last-generation iPhones for a while. I suspect the 10" iPad will be lighter as well, with more memory and a much zippier feel to it. Apple seems to make big advances between the first and second generation of a product.

A 7" seems likely to me as well, though I don't know if it will be in 2011 or 2012. It will allow them to make it both lighter and cheaper, addressing some of the main problems with the iPad.

In addition, there is competition from ebook readers, Android, and other tablets to consider. They seem to be locking into a 7" form factor as standard, with 5" and 10" outliers. Apple has a big gap between the ~4" iPhone/Touch and the 10" iPad, this would do a good job filling that.

30:

"We know developers aren't going to deal well with these different sizes and they have to change their software every time the screen size changes." Which explains why the iPhone 4, the iPad, and the iPhone 3GS all run at different resolutions.

No, no, no, this is utterly disingenuous on the author's part. There are just two platforms, iPhone and iPad.

iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS run at the same resolution from a developer's perspective: the physical sizes are identical (so the interface code is the same) and the double resolution is handled by adding new artwork with zero additional code. Apple bent over backwards to make it painless to treat iPhones as a single target platform.

iPad is fundamentally different. Being a different form factor demands a new interface. Witness how relatively few apps (maybe 10%) have made the jump to iPad, and that they become more expensive in the process: it takes significant work and rethinking to design the iPad GUI, unlike adding Retina Display support.

Does it really make sense to give developers yet another platform to target when they are already this far behind in supporting the second and preparing for a vastly different third? I suspect iPhone, iPad, and Mac apps will garner all the attention for the foreseeable future.

31:

No, no, no, this is utterly disingenuous on the author's part.

Are you accusing me of lying?

If so, fuck right off back to Hacker News (or wherever you wandered in from).

Read the moderation policy before you dare post here again!

32:

I don't see Intel changing their packaging to accommodate Apple. It might happen if other vendors start demanding the same things and AMD makes moves to provide them, but Apple won't jump to AMD so they have to buy whatever Intel wants to sell.

33:

What developers like doesn't matter. This is marketing, not engineering. People make apps for the iPhone because millions of users will actually pay for them. Android has notably less success, because users don't want to pay.

Right now the iPad has fewer apps because it has fewer users. And not all apps that makes sense on a phone or a 4" device make sense on an iPad. There are probably some apps that make sense on an iPad, but not an iPhone. Because of this, how many get ported over is irrelevant.

As for a 7" iPad, I have a feeling that is the size that most consumers will end up wanting. The 10" is beautiful, but impractical for a lot of things. Now, as the power increases on the iPad the 10" will probably work as a netbook for Apple, something people use for light portable computing. A 7" tablet is something different though. The size and weight are important -- you can make something light enough to hold comfortably in one hand for hours, and small enough to put in a coat pocket or purse. And yet, 7" is large enough to be usable as an ebook reader, media player, and all around casual computer.

The Amazon Kindle DX is an illustration of what I'm talking about. It's too big -- the added cost and weight and inconvenience aren't worth as much to people as the value added by the larger screen. I suspect if Apple comes out with a 7" iPad, that size will eclipse the 10".

34:

I pretty much agree with your predictions, Charlie, though my own desires are a little different. I would really like to see the iPad+ model with the 10 inch hi-res Retina screen, some additional memory, and a 2-core CPU. But then I've been waiting for a real graphic tablet for a very long time now.

Jobs' vision looks to me to be very close to Alan Kay's idea of the DynaBook: lightweight; not too much smaller than an A4 or USA Letter sheet, touch and/or stylus primary interface, reasonably good speakers, display works well in daylight, good battery life. Alan wanted to give them out to every child in the universe if he could (he gave that idea to Nick Negreponte, who started the One PC per Child project) to use as a writing pad, art pad, musical instrument and music pad, game machine, etc. I think Jobs recognizes the marketing power of engaging customers with graphics and sound and then selling as a general computing solution to people who are used to that product.

From a long-term prospective, Apple is getting into new platforms to solve a business problem. The PC market has pretty much reached saturation and the rate of growth is down considerably from 10 years ago. Apple is still benefiting from an increasing market share trend, but that can't last for more than a few more years. They're doing quite well in the small iOS form (iPod/iPhone) now, but there are limits on what kind of inteface can be done in that form factor. Just as laptops have taken over from desktops in a lot of the marketplace because they're readily portable and can work untethered from power and network cables, a smaller device could take over from laptops because of lower weight, more convenient size, and (potentially) longer battery life, as long as it can provide a user interface that's as functional as a laptop's (doesn't have to be identical, though). Apple may be hedging its bets by pushing both the tablet and the netbook form factor, but it sounds from the sales figures like there really are two separate markets there, at least for the time being.

35:

The iPhone is the perfect size for an ebook reader, at least for straphangers like myself. Even at 7", I'd think a tablet type thing would be too big and really require two hands.

36:

I dunno, to me Steve Jobs is the very antithesis of a man with a true vision of the future. Like Gates he's an entrepreneur. In my view his great talent is in being consistently short-sighted,completely oblivious to anything which does not fit his immediate goals. Like, for instance, the extremely probable goal that you described of creating a useful iOS overlap by introducing a 7 inch device in a few months.

You can have a vision, any good SF author can have a vision, if they bother to do some serious work on their ideas. You just gave us an interesting one, straight out of your own mind, your own analysis even if you wish to attribute it (possibly) to Jobs.

For me Jobs seems to be reacting to the past all the time. It's as if he's driven by the desire to bury any good memory of the Apple Newton,

My guess is that for his next big act he'll be trying to bury the visions of the future contained in Apple's Knowledge Navigator.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_Navigator

But maybe I'm totaly wrong and all of this has nothing to do with burying past visions and everything to do with burying RIM's Playbook and its QNX operating system. And also burying the upcoming menace of System 8 and the many weird outgrowths of the Xbox that MS seems to be encouraging. Maybe it's all about strangling those "infants" in the cradle.

37:

I'm far from an Apple fan and I really don't want to play in Steve's walled garden, but I do appriciate the "it just works" aspects of their devices. Especially after my experiences with Android. A device of paperback size would fit my requirements to a tee. Jobs just might get my money if they do this.

38:

I have an ipad and a galaxy tablet (I'm a developer so I have multiple devices for dev and testing) and I'm not clear why there is so much interest in the 7"size. To me the Galaxy is a weird middle size that is too big for pockets and not big enough to be better than a phone. If I'm in the mood to read* or watch a video I like the ipad size; if I'm on the go I'd rather have the smaller iphone size. The Galaxy Tablet is also deceptively heavy. My first impression was that it weighed almost as much as the iPad. It's actually little more than half the weight but seems heavier just because you expect something that much smaller to be much lighter.

* though I'm more likely to read on a Kindle, it's very light and I prefer the buttons for page turning to touching the screen

39:

has anyone seen the movie Tommy? thats where there headed...

40:

The argument seems to make sense to me, that a 10inch may not be much of a good form factor, but the right form factor to remind developers that *this_is_not_a_phone_stupid*.

That seems to be the greatest problem with those android tablets that went the other way and fails monumentally on anything bigger than 7 inch.

So, why didn't Apple go for a 12 inch? It would have been an even more expensive device (or a much reduced profit margin), which has a direct impact on the user and developer base.

I could imagine that a 10 inch concept could be scaled up to 14-20 inches one day. But after that it definitively stops making sense to call it a tablet or use the same memes in development. It's more like a digital table or a lectern (to remind you of the Mars trilogy and the fact that there is still no such thing as useful semantic digital devices. It also reminds me of the fact that KSR never described using those lecterns in any detail at all).

41:

I suspect what's in Steve Jobs' head and trying to get out is a vision of a thing that resembles a single sheet of US Letter sized paper in both area and thickness, with a print-quality display, infinite battery life (solar powered?), and maxing out the envelope defined by physics for a computing and communicating device of that size. This magic thing will contain the sum total of human knowledge, beautifully typeset and presented to the user in whatever way injects it into their brain with maximum efficiency. It's supposed to anticipate their needs and cater to their every whim, be easy enough to use for a 2 year old or a 90 year old to grasp intuitively .... oh, and everyone will want one badly enough to tithe Steve a tenth of their income in perpetuity out of gratitude for being allowed to own a piece of his imagination.

10%? Done…

42:

Just to point up something, but if you do some rough calcs then a 7 inch widescreen display, with retina type resolutions = ~1920x1080

So a display that's the right size for an eReader that apes a book, with high enough resolution that it looks like print, and can display FullHD video content.

IIRC, the GMA500 can already do FullHD video playback.

43:

You could have a new book idea here, because I don't think I'd ever get tired of reading "Away with thee: Charlie Stoss Tells Commenters to Fuck Off"

44:

@ 27:

I think Steve Jobs has a vision of some kind of Platonic ideal of a gadget.

And it shall be of the color onyx and in the proportions of one to four to nine.

45:

Well, you know, these ideas were all invented at Xerox PARC in the 1990s, just as the GUI was invented at Xerox PARC in the late 1970s, early 1980s.

See. And.

Oh, BTW, 7" diagonal is a reasonable size for the text area of a hardcover book.

46:

"the full-sized first-gen iPad is the best ebook reader I've ever owned"

I'm curious. How so? Preferable to an e-ink display? (Dithering between Kindles and tablets at the moment, and wondering what pushes you in that direction)

47:

I see no multitouch in the PARCTab. Also: infrared, eww! (Tends to be easily blocked; line of sight only.)

Not that I'd claim Apple invented most of the tech they sell -- just that they turn it into products. Xerox has always been famously terrible at that.

48:

The selling points of e-ink are: low power consumption, readability in daylight, and "just like paper".

In reverse order ...

e-ink is "just like paper" for values of wet newsprint -- it's muddy and ugly (and tends to die after just a couple of years as well, but that's another complaint). We're used to reading off backlit screens these days, and you get better contrast from an LED-backlit modern LCD panel, except in direct sunlight. The iPad display degrades gracefully and is still readable in cloudy or overcast daylight. The use of LCD panels in mobile phones is forcing their evolution towards daylight-readability.

As for the low power consumption, e-ink devices tend to be let down by the rest of the hardware. The late Irex Iliad, for example, had such a botched hardware architecture that, despite an e-ink display, it had to keep its linux kernel awake and polling constantly -- power management was unavailable, so it had to do a full shutdown and reboot if you wanted to switch the screen off. Other devices are wildly over-sold. Sony's Readers are sold as "good for 7000 page turns on one charge" but I'd say a better estimate is half that (and no listening to mp3s!). At which point you get, at one minute per page, around 40 hours of reading -- compared to the 11 hours on the iPad, with an infinitely more responsive and higher contrast display and much more fine-grained font zooming.

In particular, as soon as you try to do anything on e-ink other than look at an unchanging page -- annotations, for example, or simply messing with the reader's settings -- you're dumped into a world of 500-1000ms display refreshes. It's like wading through sewage.

Bluntly, e-ink is not fit for use in any role that requires realtime user feedback.

49:

Charlie @ 13
Will the snow slow or delay your journey to London?
Given that I'm buying you and/or Feorag a beer sometime today?

ditto @ 27
"I think Steve Jobs has a vision of some kind of Platonic ideal of a gadget"
I reall, really hope not.
The Platonic ideal is known to ba a false model, and also incuded the perfect "gaurdians" didn't it?
How appropriate for Job's controlled walled garden, with rip-off prices. BTW - seen the "i-bores" cartoon(s) in "Private Eye"?

50:

I rather suspect that Erick doesn't actually know the meaning of 'disingenuous': the remainder of his comment does not seem to be consistent with an accusation of dishonesty.

51:

If there's one thing to be learnt from this comment thread, it's that there's a perfect handheld device for everyone.
However, it's a different device/size/os/screen/resolution/weight/etc for everyone.
(personally I'm going to wait until I get a smartphone next year and see if I need a new device between that and my kindle)

52:

Greg, we're flying this afternoon. And Edinburgh Airport is currently closed. We will hopefully arrive late rather than not at all, but it's anyone's guess when.

53:

I'd disagree with your comment that e-ink is "muddy and ugly", (each to their own though).
I've got one of the new kindles, and I love it (ie, I'm biased), and while the contrast isn't as good as a laser printed page, it is better than some of my older paperbacks (where the paper is starting to go that lovely shade of yellow/brown). The resolution is about as good as an iPhone 3GS (whatever dpi that is) and
I've got a lot more than 40 hours reading out of it, but that's just reading, no mp3s or wireless.

I can however see e-ink fading away in about 5 years, replaced by some other tech that offers the same power savings, but none of the downsides (b&w only, slow refresh rate, possibly cost). Dunno what that tech will be though.

54:

@ 52 ...
May see you Thursday, then, if not before ....

55:

E-Ink does seem to be improving, and with the costs coming down I think it will remain competitive with LCD displays. So far the LCD ereaders at the same price range are crap, with resistive touch screens and poor resolution combined with slow processors. Here in the US it seems like every store is advertising them this year though.

What e-ink really needs is to come out with color displays or get below $100 for black and white. The Nook color is probably the only really decent LCD ebook reader at the low end, and I have a feeling it will be developed into a full tablet at some point.

I suspect in a few years we'll have a ton of tablets in the $200-$600 range, eating into the netbook market. Netbooks might disappear entirely, or evolve into low-end Windows tablets.

e-Ink ebook readers will proably sit in the $100-$200 range, maybe even below $100. They'll be pretty much single purpose devices, and they'll continue to refine that to stay ahead of tablets.

I still think the real killer app for ebook readers are textbooks. Tablet computers are probably too expensive for schools, but they'd be great for college students. A $300 tablet is cheaper than one semester's books and if etextbooks sell for even $50 you'll save money in the long run.

eInk readers have a lot of potential for schools, IMO. If the price came down to $100 or $150 with a 7" display then schools could issue them to all of their students. In the US at least a textbook costs the school about that much per student anyway. Add that to a subscription-based textbook package and students don't need a backpack full of books any more. Plus you could do other things like send quizzes to the ereaders, supplemental readings, etc.

You could do even more with an iPad, of course, but not many schools could afford those for their students.

56:

Saying IOS makes something "not a computer" is funny for someone such as myself who was programming before we upgraded to an IBM 360. Who remembers disk drives weighing tons which had less memory than lots of phones have.

57:

Strap hangers need a one-hand holder. I ordered the following - we'll see how it works:

http://sleeve360.com/order.html#

58:

I'm not sold that "it just works" is true. Maybe more than Microsoft - at the cost of always doing things Apple's way. Even little things such as having to mouse click a window to get the focus before pasting can be irritating.

59:

@ 56
Oh come on!
That stuff's MODERN!
Real, actual core store.
80-chars-per-line
Stacked punched-card input ...
FORTRAN IV

Actually done that.

60:

So, on the subject of having a variety of screen sizes and developers coping with that, plus "retina" displays, it might be worth noting that MacOS X has tech in it to scale the UI. It's not very advanced or usable yet, and won't be *really* good until developers are trained to use vectorized art assets instead of bitmaps, but it's the direction Apple is headed. The retina displays on the latest iOS handhelds also point at this -- the same apps run on the 3Gs and the 4, with some UI components scaling automatically and others requiring multiple versions of bitmapped art for full effect.

Once that's fully "cooked" and in place, I expect a proliferation of iOS form factors. As long as you keep the aspect ratio constant or within a small range (iPhone is 2:3 and iPad is 3:4), developers shouldn't have to care very much about exact pixel counts.

(I'm *really* looking forward to this on the desktop. My eyes are finally starting to get old. I want more pixels, for sharpness, but I do not want that to automatically imply smaller fonts. I think this will also be beneficial for devices attached to TV sets, where people sit much further back than they do with monitors -- shouldn't really use the same UI scale for a 2-foot user interface and a 10-foot user interface.)

61:

Punched cards?

Luxury!

(Somewhere, I may still have my very first ever program, in Algol 60, on paper tape. It was a couple of years later I encountered cards and FORTRAN IV.)

62:

Hrm, I always considered paper tape an improvement over punched cards: you could have more than 80 characters, and you didn't have to worry about ordering. It was more fragile, though, I guess.

(Yes, I've used both punch cards and paper tape.)

63:

More fragile, and also much harder to edit. The joy of the card stack was that you could slip one out, and repunch it. The pain was if you dropped the stack.

Mind you, there were some very fast paper tape readers. I think the one at Bletchley Park can read at 9600 bps - not bad for 1940s tech.

But as I encountered tape first, on an already obsoleted machine, I'll always think of it as the older technology.

64:

"This magic thing will contain the sum total of human knowledge, beautifully typeset and presented to the user in whatever way injects it into their brain with maximum efficiency."

And will still be locked to craptacular iTunes, I fear...

65:

Andrew G.
There are plenty of $100 tablets available in the US which are more than up to eBook reading, browsing and limited video (youTube low res grade). The comparable units are running $56 in China while the Indian goverment has $35 units in the works:
http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/201769/indias_35_pc_is_the_future_of_computing.html
OLPC is currently shooting for a $75 model.

One of my primary interests is sub $100 tablets for ubiquitous/interconnected computing. I'm presently using a $100 7" Maylong M-150 (updated firmware) as my primary tablet to test it's viability. Short of video, which is do-able but a little heavy on the artifacts it's more than adequate for the rest of my needs. The combination of a year of Moore's Law, a bit of firmware tweaking and high volume production should resolve performance problems.

The interesting thing is my desires for an upgraded tablet dovetail with the school/institutional user. Sub $100, 7", rugged, preferably a wireless/inductive charger and automatic wireless syncing of device configuration with a server based image during charging. In this scenario, I'd have a shelf of tablets with an inductive charging surface. Tossing a tablet on the shelf would charge and sync it. Any one tablet pulled off the shelf would be interchangable, but grabbing multiple tablets would wirelessly mesh the tablets allowing them to be used as multiple "windows" in the same workspace.

I'm convinced the low end is where the action is, with swarms of cheap tablets vs Unitary high end units in the fashion of Stanislaw Lem's "Invincible".

66:

Interesting to note that I am not alone in my concerns about the OSX/iOS convergence already previewed. Self-hiding scroll bars strike me as an active impediment to document navigation, but is a cosmetic alteration I'll probably get used to.

Application management, however, is the point where Apple and I may part company after twenty years. I understand the thought process on their side that makes this line of development both logical and desirable. On my side, however, the idea that the OS is going to try and second-guess whether I meant to leave an application open or whether I forgot to close it… err, no. If I leave an application open, it's because I haven't fucking finished with it yet and I work with Adobe apps and they take a stupid amount of time to relaunch!

67:

My first paper tape is in a round zipper container. Two items from the past.

68:

Well, of course the Bletchley Park readers were fast -- spy coders need that!

70:

"I see no multitouch in the PARCTab....
Not that I'd claim Apple invented most of the tech they sell -- just that they turn it into products."

Back in 1983 after reading a BYTE article on the Dynabook, I thought of the possibility of a notebook-sized computer with two facing screens, which could either be used in portrait orientation for book reading or in landscape with the lower screen as a touch-screen keyboard, which would of course have to be multitouch. (Color LCDs hadn't been invented yet, so I was torn between the power advantages of B/W vs. the color offered by plasma screens. The batteries were to be standard C or D cells in the cylindrical spine. I hoped for a CD reader or at least a Winchester disk, plus the new 3.5 inch Sony floppy.) The ideas for notebook computers, dual-screens, multitouch weren't out of reach for an 11 year-old 27+ years ago. Implementing them was quite a different matter.

I still have the Apple Lisa (II - Mac OS) up in the attic, but the original Mac with the serial number ending in "0001" (later upgraded to 512kB) was given away in the mid 90s. I learned more about computing from reading the TRS-80 BASIC manual - early Macs (and GUIs in general) cause a sort of brain damage. They weren't programmable, they weren't open. Amazing devices for their time though they were, I really think I'd have been better off with a Commodore 64. I have greatly enjoyed my early OSX Macbook Pro - even if I haven't messed around with the Unix underneath as much as I intended to, at least it is there if I need it. The closed nature of the iPhone and iPad put me off - too much like the original Mac.

71:

"The iPhone is the perfect size for an ebook reader, at least for straphangers like myself. Even at 7", I'd think a tablet type thing would be too big and really require two hands."

The Kindle 3 is a good size for straphangers. Small and light. And the buttons work better than if you had to use a finger to swipe to change pages.

72:

As an iPad developer, I can tell you that the GPU is already *severely* underpowered, so, sadly, we certainly aren't getting a double-resolution iPad display for a while yet.

(In particular, the device can't do compositing fast enough.)

73:

"What e-ink really needs is to come out with color displays or get below $100 for black and white."

The Kindle 3 wi-fi is only $139, and Amazon sold off the older Kindle 2s last week as a special for $89. So prices < $100 for black and white will probably happen in the next year or so.

Unlike general-purpose tablets, there's less in an ebook reader to drive hardware upgrades and keep prices high. The CPU is pretty much fine for reading books. The storage is well beyond most people's needs at just 4GB. The B&W screens could use a few more shades' lightness in the background tone, improving contrast. But if they get the 'page' color close to white, it'll be essentially done. Refresh speed improvements would help, but it's not really crucial because at least with the Kindle 3 it's adequately fast for reading.

General-purpose tablets will be following the CPU/GPU/storage/RAM upgrade path as games and other software strain the abilities of the hardware.

But an ebook reader's requirements are pretty fixed. So like basic calculators, the price will be able to get pretty low.

I wouldn't be surprised if Amazon were willing to ride the price curve as low as they can without sacrificing build quality. They give away the reader software, after all. They want to sell books, not devices, and a $30 B&W Kindle would be better for them than discontinuing the hardware kindle and only offering a free app that requires a $300 iPad or some other device.

74:

As another not-long-after-release purchaser, I now have my iPad with me more or less all the time. It has most of my music collection, a good collection of (mostly non-DRM) books, some audiobooks, a couple of tv series, and a selection of games and photos. I've travelled quite a lot and it's been an excellent companion. I have no trouble reading off the screen for a prolonged period and the battery life is remarkably good. I don't do serious work on it: essentially it's for entertainment and quick email checks and web searches. The weight and form factor are fine.

I don't like the on-screen keyboard, and hate iTunes (clearly iTunes development is where Apple park all their less-good engineers and UI designers). The lack of DRM-free books is an irritant, but that's not wholly Apple's fault. The Bluetooth connectivity still seems a bit iffy, despite iOS updates, not that I use it much. The lack of Flash is moderately inconvenient but nothing more than that.

As such, Charlie's postulated improvements would be nice to have, but not enough to make me want to replace my current iPad which does more or less exactly what I want of it.

(Tangentially, I've recently moved from an all-Windows workplace and now have a Linux box and a MacBook. I am learning the joys of CLIs but at the moment hate OSX. There seems to be no middle ground between shiny hand-holding and having to faff around in the terminal. Could just be newbie growing pains, but Apple's stuff does seem to be great so long as you stay on the path and awkward when you try to step off (cf iTunes, again))

75:

Yes, I suspect Barnes and Noble will do the same with the Nook. It will be tough for other companies making e-readers though, since they'll have to rely on profits from the devices only.

I also suspect that Amazon will follow Barnes and Noble's lead and come out with an LCD color ebook reader that's really a tablet in disguise. Combine that with a closed app store and they have another revenue source, and can give customers the same "it just works" experience that Apple does.

76:

True, and I've looked at some of the Chinese made Android tablets. So far they seem to lack on the quality control, and the screens are sub-par. Which is to be expected given the price.

But give it a few years and I think low end sub-$100 tablets will be commonplace.

77:

Any ideas on Light Peak vs HDBaseT? Are they competing or will our devices have both?

The specs for HDBaseT look rather impressive and it runs on boring ubiquitous cat5.

The wikipedia page for Light Peak makes it sound like some tech that will always be a few years out in the future.

78:

Andrew S @ 77:

There's a rumor going around that Apple is going to include Light Peak in a product in the first half of 2011 (based in part I suspect on the fact that Steve Jobs has been dissing USB 3.0). Intel showed Light Peak hardware running in a laptop last May, so there's been plenty of time to move the chips into production for volume shipment in the next 6 months.

79:

Secondly: his stated reasons for not releasing a 7" iPad are transparent bullshit. "We think the screen is too small to express the software" — tell that to millions of iPod Touch users

I think you're missing Steve's point here...it isn't that you can't make good software at a smaller than iPad size as obviously the iPhone/iPod Touch proves... It's that you can't make the kind of software that's great on the iPad at half the screen size.

If you think about the iPad specific UI elements (like the split screen view in Mail or the complex tool palettes of drawing apps) they wouldnt work at half the size....

Which isn't to say you could make good software for a 7" screen but I think it would essentially be the same as iPhone/iPod software just scaled up a but, which is NOT the same as iPad software at all.

This would then create a real headache for developers - would they create a 7" iPad version of their app or scale up the iPhone version...as well as developing a "full size " iPad version?

I'd like a larger iPad rather than smaller, I can see them being functional (in varying degrees and for different people) all the way up to 17"..

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see what happens ... I quite likely to be proved entirely wrong


80:

For me working with a computer monitor that makes use of an IPS panel is crucial. I do loads of photo editing and graphics design, consequently serving precise colours is very important. Plus the fact the viewing angles of IPS panels are superior. My friend owns a TN screen and you are unable to even tilt your head without the colours changing. Presumably OLED displays will come soon. They even make IPS displays look low quality.

81:

Any graphics work does, indeed, make an IPS panel very useful. On the other hand, even a cheap TN screen today is miles better than what we had to put up with in the 1990s ...

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