'Book Value

Apple's Tablet: The iTouch Cometh

Charles Moore - 2009.07.28 - Tip Jar

Boy Genius Report's Marc Flores reports a rumor that Apple is fixing to team up with Verizon to release a carrier-subsidized Internet tablet - sort of a giant iPod touch, but possibly also with a physical keyboard.

AppleInsider's Kasper Jade reports that Apple is on track for an early 2010 launch of a tablet computer device, although he doesn't mention a physical keyboard.

possible iTouch design
Possible OS X tablet design.

AppleInsider had reported nearly two years ago that Apple's next big product initiative would be a modernized reiteration of its erstwhile Newton MessagePad, and now predicts that it will materialize as a 3G-enabled tablet with a 10" display, in many respects a jumbo iPod touch, the design of which has the explicit and hands-on imprimatur of Steve Jobs.

Lately I've been leaning toward the likelihood of a giganto iPod touch type device becoming Apple's foil against the fading, but still robust, PC netbook onslaught.

Whither Netbooks?

I still think an Apple netbook would probably sell quite well. The number of Mac-heads who've bought PC netbooks to "Hackintosh" is evidence supportive. Speaking of which, If you just can't wait for Apple to get an Internet tablet out the door, a recently updated netbook compatibility chart posted by BoingBoing's Rob Beschizza will help you pick the best PC netbook candidates for installing Mac OS X. Short answer: Get an HP Mini 1000 or a Dell Mini 9/Vostro A90 for the smoothest Hackintosh netbook ride.

However, there's little profit in netbooks, and as Steve Jobs remarked last year, lowballing isn't in the company's DNA, a point reaffirmed by Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook in Apple's quarterly fiscal roundup conference call last week with his observation that Apple doesn't want to build the most computers - just the best computers.

The $700 Gap

However, there is that yawning gap between the $299 high-end iPod touch and the $999 polycarbonate MacBook White. Venture Beat's Dean Takahashi is predicting a price point of about $800 for the "iTouch" tablet (for lack of an official name - and with acknowledgement that Tyco Electronics has registered ITOUCH for "CRT and flat panel displays in which the display surface functions as a touch sensor; and software drivers, controllers and user manuals sold as a unit therewith", which is probably why Apple itself never uses the term - dk). I hope it's less than that.

Given that the development and tooling costs of the "whiteBook" have been amortized long since, I think there should be room to drop its price a bit further if Apple intends to keep building this entry-level MacBook, perhaps to $899 or even $849, which would put it in the ballpark of higher-priced deluxe PC netbooks.

However Apple still needs product in the range between $300 and $900, which is why an Apple tablet device now seems all but inevitable. I don't like touchscreens, but if they include a real keyboard or even compatibility with an external one, I would be satisfied on that front.

The Brains of the New Machine

Dean Takahashi also contends that the iTouch processor chip is being designed in-house by Apple's PA Semi unit, which it acquired in April 2008 for $278 million for reasons that have never been made clear. Clarification may be at hand.

Takahashi reports he's learned that PA Semi's team was split into two parts, one designing portable ARM-based processors for iPhones and iPods, another designing a processor for the tablet device.

Personally, I would prefer a machine that supported the standard Mac OS X, but will concede that for the target market, the iPhone OS (a version of OS X) and its access to the thousands of iPhone apps makes sense - and from a business perspective this would be less likely to cannibalize sales from the full-featured MacBooks.

Seeking Alpha's Jason Schwarz thinks that the iTouch tablet "is about to change society as we know it," will become Apple's flagship product, and demand will overwhelm Apple.

Schwartz joins the gelling consensus that the iTouch will be essentially a larger version of the iPod Touch, but says it's primed to be the most significant product announcement in Apple's history because:

  1. It will be an App Machine.
  2. It will have mobile high speed connectivity.
  3. It will support free communication with its connectivity focus being routed away from wireless cellphone carriers and towards the Internet.
  4. It will not be subject to the wireless carrier exclusivity that hobbles the iPhone, making support for that device inhibited and absurdly expensive.

My guess is that what will likely emerge is a machine running the iPhone OS that is even thinner than the MacBook Air with a 10" multitouch screen, WiFi, Bluetooth, an onscreen touch keyboard plus an optional mechanical wireless keyboard and mouse, no optical drive (possibly an optional external one a la the MacBook Air), a couple of USB ports, and possibly an SD Card reader.

If Apple makes it capable of running the Mac OS as well, that would be delicious icing on the proverbial cake.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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