I believe Apple will do a tablet computer that has a virtual keyboard. The product will have approximately a 9 inch screen, be designed to sit on a kitchen counter, have a fold out back foot that will allow it stand up like a picture frame, and also be comfortable to use on a couch.
The computer will run a variant of the iPhone OS. It will include WiFi, bluetooth and 2 USB ports. It won’t contain a 3G radio. Good chance it includes an ethernet port. For most consumers, that tablet will be the only computing device they need. Like an iPhone or touch, it will not expose the user to the memory hierarchy or the file system because well designed consumer devices never do. Nevertheless, there are challenges and open questions.
- Will the device come with a bluetooth keyboard or will that be optional? I think it will be a lot more versatile for counter use if it has a keyboard. Will it take a mouse? new pointing device? or will you just tap on it? I think it will optionally take a mouse.
- Will they extend the iPhone OS to support multiple logins? Is the device designed to be a single user device, like an iPhone, or a multi-user device, like a personal computer? I suspect that many home users share a single login, so the answer of how to best address allowing two different people to read email and have their own bookmarks is not obvious. And remember that on the tablet, people will likely use the Apple mail app, not a web browser, to read email.
- For Photography is it client or host? Will they do a version of iPhoto for the tablet? Will they put in all the USB code and acquisition stuff to allow acquiring photos from a digital camera to the tablet? Will an iPhone be able to sync with the tablet, or do they view the tablet as a client that is either left unsynched or syncs with a personsal computer? I think the iPhoto model is entirely broken so you really need to pick your poison on this one. More on this below.
- What about iTunes? can you sync your iPod to the tablet or is the tablet a client?
- How will they allow all existing apps to run on the larger screen? Two major options here: have each app run in a little gadget window that is the size of an iPhone or redesign apps to run full screen. I think they do both. They run iPhone apps in compatibility mode in a little gadget window but most Apple apps will be redesigned to use the full screen. Given the design philosophy of iPhone apps, they could just encourage apps to build views with multiple long columns across the page, the right hand columns being deeper in to the hiearchy than the left columns (like the column view in finder).
I have long thought that iTunes should be a caching client that you can login to from anywhere and get to all music you purchased plus imported. Ditto with iPhoto (this is the Phanfare solution).
Using that model, both phones and the tablet would be clients to the cloud and the phone would sync wirelessly with the cloud even for music (as Phanfare Photon on the phone does for photos).
As they say, the devil is in the details and it will be interesting to see how Apple executes the product. I imagine a raging debate within Apple about whether people wil be presented with a “login” screen on the tablet and encouraged to “add users.”
If Apple really comes out with the tablet in October, as rumored, then I think they will do the expedient thing. That means that the tablet will be just like a phone and will need to sync with iTunes on a PC or Mac to get to its music. The one feature I expect they will add is network sync over wifi. They already have this feature in the Apple TV product, so no big deal porting it to the tablet.