Sunday, April 12, 2009

Jobs Behind the Curtain

The mythical Apple Multitouch Tablet took another step towards existing this week, gaining Apple Insider's "could be true" imprimatur.

I have a long history with AI, having first read it as MacNN Reality. It has changed hands and domains a few times since then, but the rumormongering has been relatively well informed regardless of who is at the helm. Any site making accurate predictions on the Mac Web is getting dirt from someone. A few years of quality means that someone is not leaving a trail, and AI has a proven reserve of not-fired insiders now, by my estimation.

I have long doubted the "Apple Tablet" rumor, and I continue to think it is off base. Now that AI is on record endorsing it, I must dig deeper.

As rumors go, the "Apple has a tablet in the labs coming soon" line has been around in one form or another for more than ten years. It persists because it has all the tropes that home-based die-hard rainbow-tattooed "Guy Kawasaki" pre-Copland ADB-using Mac zealots love. Its newest revival was inevitable.

The tablet is a form-factor no one has managed to sell in decades of trying, so the classic Apple "hardware and software integration" strengths should thrill upon arrival, featuring unprecedented innovations. Unlike, say, figuring out how to sell digital music, these are the works that inspire passion in Mac devotees.

The most electrifying part of the hardware rumors for longtime Mac devotees is the possibility of a new, exotic, and custom main processor. The best Apple products, and the most thrilling keynotes, have always centered on radical leaps in computing power wrung from Skunk Works-like research and development. Software is fun, and perhaps new user interface technology can move an Apple zealot's needle, but the moment a new paradigm is revealed is near-religious. The original Mac leapt past the PC and Apple II with 3.5in floppies and a screaming 680x0, the PowerPC crushed the Pentium, and the G4 with Velocity Engine brought "supercomputing to the masses." The PA Semi acquisition, and Intel-era loss of Mac CPU differentiation, have given the rejuvenated Apple Tablet rumor a sky-high interest quotient.

That arch-enemy Microsoft has spent billions to get nowhere to the drama. The iPhone 2 reveal will be huge, but the fragmented, juvenile smartphone market offers only iterative, sleepy Research In Motion as a foil. When Apple faces down an industry leader, Mac zealots lust for philosophical war. The GUI versus the command line, single-vendor hardware/software packaging versus the IBM PC/Wintel model, the new from the Other against the status quo from the hegemon.

Finally, "Steve Jobs is personally involved." While on hiatus, Jobs is contributing an unknown amount to Apple's strategic and operational plans, but he is of course obsessed with the Tablet. In the received lore of the Mac Web, the story of an Apple product team being taken over by Jobs and pushed to epic, era-defining works is cherished. That the Tablet is being developed this way is a certainty only in the hearts of the rumor obsessed, but that is all it takes.

But what do we really know? Jobs is hard to track down for the Wall Street Journal, so it is hard to believe anyone knows the specifics of his work on a single secret project. Tablet dimensions are only guesses. The parts of the iPhone told its tale, especially leaks about what became a German-sourced, highly innovative capacitive screen. A tablet would require an extraordinary version of such, and nothing has leaked of any substance. That DigiTimes says the production line is running does not count.

OS X for iPhone 3.0 was just revealed, and while it does a lot for the iPhone, only some Plist text describing "iProd X,Y" point to any development outside of the smartphone arena. Meanwhile, Tablet rumors hinge on an entire all-new "wing" of the OS coded to accommodate Mac-level usage, targeted at a wholly new CPU/hardware architecture, and ready soon. Difficult to believe, especially since the delta in quality between betas 1 and 2 of the OS is infinitesimal, not composed of the leaps found in past OS development.

Thus, I believe Apple Tablet expectations are off-base. The company would be foolish not to experiment with the idea, but the product as imminent, and meaning to compete with netbooks in price, sales volume and usage profile, represents the remotest of possibilities.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great post on that ultimate of apple vaporware, only 2nd to the rebirth of the 12" macbook pro. i agree with your conclusion, but with apple's new lust over the idea of "the cloud" it does seem like a tablet would be something they'd hit the market with in about 5 years.