[By Duncan McLeod] In less than a fortnight, Apple CEO Steve Jobs will take to a stage in San Francisco to unveil one of the most eagerly awaited consumer electronics products in history. Can the brains behind the iPod and the iPhone deliver the goods once again?
When Fortune magazine recently named Jobs as its CEO of the Decade, it made the point that this is a man who has reinvented not one but four industries.
“In the past 10 years alone, he has radically and lucratively reordered three markets — music, movies and mobile telephones – and his impact on his original industry, computing, has only grown,” the US magazine wrote.
“Remaking any one business is a career-defining achievement; four is unheard of.”
Unbelievably, Jobs may have industry number five — publishing — already in his sights.
Apple has called a press conference for January 26 at which Jobs is expected to unveil a tablet computing device – very possibly called the iSlate — that some technology analysts are already speculating could change the way we consume magazines, newspapers and books.
Little is actually known about the iSlate. As usual, Apple has thrown a veil of secrecy around the product, leaving bloggers and tech columnists to make informed guesses about what Jobs has up his sleeve.
Based on reports, Apple is planning to introduce a tablet-computing device with a 9,7-inch or 10-inch touch screen. In terms of size, that would position it midway between the iPhone, with its 3,5-inch display, and the entry-level MacBook Pro, which has a 13-inch screen. The device will have a Wi-Fi connection, allowing people to browse the Web, check their e-mail and download applications, music and movies from the iTunes Store. It will also allow consumers to purchase and download electronic books and newspapers — in the process setting Apple up in competition with Amazon.com and Sony, both of which produce e-book readers.
Apple is said to be working with major newspaper publishers to bring titles like The New York Times to the device at launch. There’s been less talk about Apple reaching deals with book publishers, but the silence doesn’t mean the talks aren’t taking place.
Earlier rumours that the iSlate will have a next-generation OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display appear to have been scotched. The cost of OLED technology, which produces thinner, crisper, brighter displays, is still regarded as prohibitive. As a result, it’s likely that the iSlate will use liquid crystal display (LCD) technology.
Ultimately, the success or otherwise of an iSlate device will come down to the screen. If Apple wants to be successful in electronic books, the device must be comfortable to read for hours on end. It will also have to have excellent battery life.
Speculation is rife that the iSlate will be like a big iPod Touch, Apple’s iPhone-like multimedia player. It may even be able to run the tens of thousands of applications developed for the iPhone and the Touch.
However, many people will be disappointed if the device can’t also run applications written for Mac OS X, the operating system that runs on Apple’s desktop and notebook PCs.
At this stage, though, no-one knows for sure which software will power the iSlate. Its price is also pure conjecture, though most peg it at between US$800 and $1 000. That’s significantly more than the price of entry-level notebooks, but then Apple has never really targeted budget buyers.
Of course, Jobs could surprise us all by announcing something completely different. But given all the hype around a tablet device, and the fact that Apple hasn’t sought to temper that hype, I think we can take the iSlate — or whatever Apple decides to call it — as a virtual certainty.
- Duncan McLeod is editor of TechCentral
- This column is also published in the Financial Mail