Monday, August 17, 2009

MacBook Touch - the threads and rumors around the Apple Tablet come together

Recently I had to send my Apple MacBook Pro to the Apple Hospital for some Tender Loving Care. Thankfully after a new Logic Board everything is humming along nicely again. The incident did however underscore to me the hidden power of the MobileMe service.

If you have an iPhone you really should be using MobileMe. The Find my iPhone feature that was introduced with iPhone OS 3.0 is very cool but the real power is in the over the air syncing of Contacts and calendar information.

When my Mac was in the AppleCare Hospital I got my hands on a HPMini 1000 for a week and managed to install OS X. There were limitations to running OS X on the NetBook. For one thing I couldn't get sound working and the NetBook did not come with Bluetooth. However, once OS X was installed I was able to connect up to MobileMe and my preferences, calendars and contacts all came streaming down to the NetBook. With that core information the NetBook became far more valuable.

Why is this relevant to the MacBook Touch rumor? It's simple. While I have doubts that a Tablet will appear as "just one more thing" at the anticipated September Apple Music event. I do think we will see a Tablet arrive early next year.

The rumor is plausible that we will see a new product drop in around the $800-900 price range. A product with a large screen and that leverages MobileMe, the App Store and the beta development being done with iWork. Let's not forget that Apple has quietly been testing a web-based iWork platform. It has limitations but that and the iDisk app for the iPhone all point to an increasing capability to seamlessly connect to our data in the cloud.

A 10 inch MacBook Touch Tablet would be a great multi-tasking platform that could use 802.11n to stream movies from our iTunes libraries while also using the iPhone iTunes remote application to control a remote library.

Now will a tablet run OS X or a modified iPhone OS? I would hope it runs OS X. The Tablet could leverage the iPhone Multi-touch interface that has been built in to the OS X platform. Snow Leopard is about to launch with a streamlined core that makes OS X a lighter weight proposition. The Tablet could also run iPhone apps in emulation mode. Let's not forget that Apple has signed up thousands of iPhone App developers that are able to run an iPhone simulation on their Macs. What would it take for Apple to create an application that encapsulates an iPhone Application and run it on OS X? Surely not a lot. That would let the Tablet immediately leverage the library of iPhone Apps and be able to multi-task iPhone apps. With a full Safari browser the Tablet could leverage the cloud. Do you remember how the iPhone did this before Apple released the iPhone SDK?

The Tablet could run OS X without being dependent upon an Intel processor. Apple has already ported OS X once. Another migration to using a custom ARM processor would not be an unrealistic feat. The only downside to this is that support for existing OS X applications would be dependent upon Rosetta-style emulation as was the case in the transition from PowerPC to Intel processors.

The Fact that Apple is investing in data centers on a massive scale would also seem to reinforce the idea of a Tablet App store and a Tablet product that held most storage in the cloud. I think there would still be some local storage, for when a network connection is unavailable but Apple has been working with Sync services on MobileMe for a number of years now.

Will a Tablet include 3G network or WiMax support? I suspect not in the first iteration. I could see Apple doing so in the second iteration of the product after they have given Verizon some time to get their LTE 4G network up and running. The fact is that the vast majority of NetBooks are used inside the home. That makes it far more likely to include WiFi in 802.11g and 802.11n versions. With Wi-Fi Apple could also leverage their iPhone product line. It would be really easy for them to issue an up date to their iPhone OS that allowed you to setup a Wi-Fi sharing network between your Tablet and your iPhone and use the tethering feature on your existing iPhone data plan. This would also mean Apple could produce one version of the Tablet and not have to produce variations to meet the different wireless carrier needs. Don't forget that Sprint and Verizon are already carrying the Novatel Mi-Fi that I wrote about back in May - identifying the product as a game changer. That provides a personal Wi-Fi network. That would be ideal to match with a MacBook Touch with Wi-Fi. It would also allow Apple to build relationships with the other carriers in a way that promotes sales of those lucrative data plans. Can you imagine being able to go in to a Verizon or Sprint store and purchase a bundled Mi-Fi and MacBook Touch? There has also been talk about AT&T charging for Tethering on the Data Plan. Allowing unlimited tethering of a MacBook Touch via your iPhone might be an option that people would consider. AT&T could bundle that at a lower price point as an Add-on service than using the Mi-Fi service on a competitor carrier.

I increasingly believe that the Tablet will not be just another product from Apple. Instead I am convinced that Apple is looking to leverage everything they have learned with the iPod and the iPhone. They will leverage the cloud and the existing ecosystem. When the iPhone was released it built upon the iPod ecosystem and leveraged the iTunes store. Expect this new game changing product to take that a step further.

Do you think there is substance to the iTablet rumors? What are you looking for in a Mac Tablet?