What Will the Apple Slate Look Like?

 
 
By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2010-01-17
 
 
 

For months, Apple has been mum on the topic of the much-rumored "iSlate" or Apple tablet PC. Still, the silence has only helped fuel speculation that the maker of the iPhone will introduce this near-mythical Apple tablet later in January, likely between Jan. 25 and 27.

Whether the Apple tablet is real or not, many believe that Apple has something in the works.

Rapid Repair CEO Aaron Vronko, whose company performs "dissections" of devices and who has a broad knowledge of the ins and outs of many popular smartphones, said he believes an Apple tablet is indeed on the way, and he offered eWEEK his predictions about what consumers can expect.

"I do think it's coming, for a variety of reasons," Vronko said. "The most compelling is that ... the market for e-readers is ready, and with the iTunes store, Apple has the perfect content distribution channel. iTunes has been proven to be incredibly successful for music and video distribution."

He explained that any new device has two options: "It can steal market share from another device, or ... be a convergence device."

Vronko said he believes the latter will be the case with the Apple slate, both to justify its price tag and to prevent it from cannibalizing Apple's iPhone market.

A slate device would have to have "daily appeal" and be a reading and Web-surfing device that users would take anywhere, as they would a daily paper. "The newspaper industry is struggling really badly," he said. "But it's not dead, it's just changing."

Vronko said he expects that Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G and even 2G connectivity will be included in the slate, and that Apple will debut one or two models: a 7-inch version and possibly a 10-inch model as well. He expects that the 7-incher will have an OLED screen, which would offer considerable energy savings.

"When you move from an iPhone display to 7 inches, that vertical is going to give you about four times as much screen space to draw power from the battery. So even if you triple the iPhone battery, a 7-inch LCD device wouldn't last as long as the iPhone's [battery]," Vronko said. "But with an OLED screen, you could have a battery that's half the size of a netbook battery and still have 10-plus hours of video or 1, 20, even 30 hours of e-reading."

A 10-inch OLED would be nice, but Vronko said the market won't have them available until later in the year.

"Apple will either launch with the 7-inch first [and the 10-inch to follow] or use something else for the 10-inch slate," Vronko guessed.

One possibility, he said, could be using technology from Pixel Qi, which would involve overlaying e-ink-which the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook both use, to simulate the look of ink on paper-onto a traditional LED screen.

"You'd have two display modes. E-ink, which is monochrome and uses outside light to light it up, like the Kindle does-so that would be perfect when using it as a e-reader. It would automatically switch to that mode, depending on the application, and use 80 percent less power than when in LCD mode," Vronko said. Additionally, "In LCD mode, it would be a typical, bright, beautiful display, but use more power."

He added, "There's not a lot of business rumor to back that up, though, so I'd put the Pixel Qi in the unlikely category-but it would be an excellent choice."

As for the processor, Vronko said he expects Apple to use its own custom design of an ARM Cortex-A9.

"[Apple] bought a processor design company in April 2008 ... and it's been top-secret what they've got them working on, but it's thought that they've got them making application processors, instead of having to use ones from Samsung," Vronko said. Application processors, he explained, can integrate six to 10 processors on one chip, which creates less heat and is less expensive and more efficient.

Vronko also brought up the Tegra 2 processor that Nvidia unveiled on Jan. 7. "There are no products yet with the Tegra 2 application processor," he said. "If Apple actually has that, it would be beating most of the major manufacturers to market by six to nine months. That would be significant."

Vronko estimated that a 10-inch slate would likely retail for about $1,000, unsubsidized, and a 7-inch model would likely be around $750, unsubsidized.

As for the 10 million units Apple allegedly believes it will sell in the first year of the device's release?

"Once you get more expensive than an iPod, you just don't sell that many unless it's a phone, something everybody needs," Vronko observed. "Unless it's going to replace the iPhone, I think 1 to 5 million in the first year is more likely."

Rocket Fuel