In a recent New York Times piece, Brad Stone and Ashlee Vance lent some much needed perspective about Apple’s maybe-kind of-sort of-impending Tablet. Depending on which vague rumor or piece of conjecture you decide to believe, the Apple Tablet will either “redefine print,” “bridge the gap between laptops and iPhones,” or save the planet from a catastrophic asteroid strike.
OK, so I made up that last possibility. Still, the level of hyperbolic publicity surrounding the device is astounding. While I don’t question the claim that Apple has revolutionized both the cell phone and mp3 player markets, I’m not yet willing to award them another success by default. As Stone and Vance point out, tablet devices have been attempted before and the results have been middling to put it kindly.
Apple’s own Newton MessagePad was certainly ahead of its time when it was launched in 1993. It featured a large screen, a thin, unwieldy stylus pen and little in the way of functionality. Envisioned as a replacement for pulp-based paper, the Newton was as ill-conceived as its namesake was brilliant.
Amazon’s Kindle could be described as a tablet, but it’s important to note that it was intended for a niche audience. The Kindle allows people to store books and read them in digital form without dealing with the harsh glare associated with previous tablet readers. Apple, Microsoft and the other developers who have been rumored to throw their hats into the ring face a sterner challenge. They aim to create a do-it-all device.
For the moment, my major concern remains that Apple will deliver a slick, well-designed device without an express purpose. iPods are ideally suited for listening to music and podcasts on the go. The iPhone brought the idea of “apps” to our collective consciousness. But what need will this supposed “iPad” be fulfilling? If all we’re really getting is a Kindle with added bells and whistles, it might be time to turn down the hyperbole. Just a notch.