The Gap in the Market, and Your Face.

Just over a year ago there was a huge buzz in the Techverse. Word on the street was that Apple were going to announce something big. Well, something bigger than the iPhone and iPod Touch, anyway. A tablet. And as everyone not currently living under a rock on Gallifrey knows, announce it they did. They played it off with a certain degree of Apple-esque arrogance, touting their “magical” new device as sitting somewhere between the iPhone OS devices of yore and their laptops.

But does it?

Before the iPad’s release, when the ‘net was alive with speculation about the ‘iTablet’ or ‘iSlate’ (it couldn’t possibly be called iPad; that sounds like a high-tech sanitary towel!), a number of excited articles could be found showing people’s fan-made mock-ups of the iDevice. These inevitably ranged from the ridiculous to the excellent to the realistic, and, while, there were some gems in amongst those that would have been genuinely fantastic if they’d made it into production, there was also this:

File this one under ‘silly’. The last thing anyone needs is an oversized iPod touch with no new OS options. (via iSmashPhone)

Now before I’m hit with waves of outrage from iPad fans and owners alike, stop and think for a moment. I’m well aware that the above mock-up was a parody. That doesn’t make iSmashPhone’s comment any less true. Hear me out.

Is the direction Apple have sent tablets spiralling down really the direction we need them to go in? And yes, they have sent tablets in general down that route. Everything’s going to copy the iPad in some way or another. Don’t get me wrong if you’re an iPad owner—I won’t knock the device itself. It’s very solidly built and Apple-ish, that’s for sure, and I’m sure you’re very happy together. But is there really anything worthwhile the iPad (or iPad 2) can do that my iPhone 4 can’t?

And my iPhone can make calls. It can send SMS messages. It has a 5MP camera. It takes 720p video. It has that beautiful retina display. It runs the exact same operating system as the iPad—and it fits in my pocket too.Isn’t the iPad really just a big iPod Touch with a dose of Apple brainwashing?

Not that the iPod touch was a bad device—I had one and loved it. But I already own an iPhone. I see no benefit of buying the same device again, only larger and limited by size and the lack of, y’know, being a phone. “So, TechRanter!” I hear you cry. “What would make the iPad worth your time and money and the inconvenience of its size?” Why, I’m so glad you asked. Because several of the mock-ups on that iSmashPhone article have this X-factor. And that’s a very-much intended pun. Because the X-factor is OS X.

I’m not saying that it’s a good idea for tablets to run interfaces designed for a mouse/keyboard setup. That’s been tried to very ill effect with Windows tablets. But I prayed, I very sincerely hoped, before the iPad’s release, that it wouldn’t be running what came to be called iOS. Because that doesn’t put it between the iPhone and the MacBook family like Steve Jobs’ Keynote stated. It puts it firmly on the left. An ‘OS X Lite’, as I would have liked to see, would have filled that gap beautifully. After all, after seeing Stacks in Leopard, with their large icons and curved shape, didn’t we all think how nicely they would lend themselves to touch-based HCI?

And if an Apple tablet ran ‘OS X Lite’ powered by the Mac App Store (c’mon, who didn’t see that coming?), and if it didn’t need to be plugged into a computer and synced with iTunes, and if I could see more than one app at once (in a windowed or paned view) then yes, I could see myself using it as a primary computer, at least for casual use. I could see myself taking it into lectures to make notes on, I could see myself doing simple coding and HTML with it (hey—Coda is on the MAS), I could see myself writing letters and editing photos (Pixelmator, anyone?).

Hell, I’d be using the damn thing to write this blog post instead of my MacBook Pro. And there’s no way I’d feel comfortable doing that in iOS, no matter how big they make it.


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