Design for Possible Apple Tablet Keeps Market Guessing

News Analysis: New speculation has surfaced that Apple is developing a tablet computer that might appear in early 2010. The latest rumors raise endless questions about the approach Apple might take in designing the device. Will an Apple tablet resemble's Kindle e-reader or like the designs crafted by Dell and Hewlett-Packard? Or will Apple produce an innovative device that breaks entirely new ground?

Rumors abound that the Apple Tablet, the subject of much debate over the past few months, will finally be making its way to store shelves sooner than some might think.
According to a report in the Financial Times, Apple is readying its tablet for this year's holiday season or, at the very latest, the first quarter of 2010. The publication cited a variety of sources that confirm that Apple has its sights set on the tablet market. Apple apparently wants to get the product released as soon as possible to capitalize on an opportunity it sees in the space.
There is no end to speculation over what Apple's tablet will feature. Will it be just a big iPhone without the phone? Will it have features that will make it a more robust, enterprise-friendly product? In the end, only Apple knows that answer.
But that doesn't mean we need to stop at, "Wait and see." On the contrary, there are some significant pieces of evidence that suggest Apple may be trying to appeal to users by supplying an Amazon Kindle-like experience.

Since the company has watched both and Barnes & Noble offer software in its App Store allowing people to read e-books on their iPhones, wouldn't it make perfect sense for Apple to capitalize on that trend with a device that combines the e-reading functionality of the Kindle with the productivity qualities of the iPhone?
Apple is, admittedly, not as powerful in the enterprise as it is in the consumer space. In the business world, Apple is an also-ran that doesn't do enough to make its software as compelling to companies as it should. It is content to allow Microsoft to dominate that space.
But in the consumer market, the same isn't true. Although Apple has been unable to capture significant software market share, it's a leader in hardware. Its products tend to set the trend, rather than follow it. The iPhone revolutionized the mobile phone business. The iPod changed the way music is enjoyed. Even Apple's MacBook has made PC vendors like Dell and Hewlett-Packard realize that design matters just as much as the specs. And all the while, Apple has been able to enjoy significant revenue by charging a premium for its trend setting.
Realizing that, it doesn't seem Apple would want to compete with Dell or HP netbooks with its tablet. Those products are, as Apple COO Tim Cook pointed out in an earnings call recently, leaving consumers unsatisfied. And Apple isn't in the business of leaving customers unsatisfied. So, rather than follow the leaders and try to compete with them by bringing small, portable products to the market, Apple might choose instead to focus its attention on attracting the growing niche market created by with its Kindle.
Right now, the Kindle DX features a monochromatic display. It has a browser, but surfing the Web is practically impossible. It doesn't offer the option to download mobile applications. It is, quite simply, underpowered.
But an Apple tablet wouldn't be. It could make it easier to read books. It could display color graphs that can't find a home on the Kindle or Sony Reader. Thanks to the iTunes store, selling those books shouldn't be too much trouble. Unlike, which had to build a consumer base around its store, Apple already has its customers. Now, it would just add another way for users to enjoy iTunes.
Most importantly, Apple can provide an experience outside of e-books that would make consumers think twice about buying a Kindle over the Apple tablet.
Apple probably wouldn't be content to simply offer e-books and move along. Think of the Apple tablet as a big iPhone (probably without the phone), complete with iTunes purchases, 3G connectivity and the ability to download apps directly onto the device. But not just any apps. The Apple tablet could offer users the opportunity to download as many iPhone-compatible apps as they'd like. At last count, that's more than 65,000 applications.
Although it's still trying to find its way in the enterprise, Apple has a firm grip on the consumer space. It knows how to win the market's affection. And it knows how to provide consumers with exactly what they're looking for. That's precisely why the Apple tablet could easily become the single product that most folks want with them wherever they go.
With help from the Kindle and the iPhone, the Apple tablet could become the best of both worlds for anyone who wants to be entertained.

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger is a longtime freelance contributor to several technology and business publications. Over his career, Don has written about everything from geek-friendly gadgetry to issues of privacy...