James R. Stoup from Apple Matters is responsible for a recent article titled: “Flash Based Laptops, Sooner Than You Think.” He posits in his writing that Apple might extend a form of the iPod technology to a theme for desktops of consumer models, perhaps as they did with the design of the newest iMacs (my analysis).
I disagree strongly with Mr. Stoup on his analysis that Apple will dump all of the research and development costs of computers running on flash-based hard drives into their cheapest consumer models. Apple never does that. In fact, their cheap stuff is the last to get the goody goods. If flash memory hard drives are along the lines with sudden motion or ambient light sensors, special heat dissapation zones, new materials science in terms of casing development, backlit keyboards, two-finger USB trackpad builds, or even firewire and DVI installments, we can only assume that Apple will seek to recoup their R&D costs in a new prosumer items instead of let it wallow in the smaller margins of a consumer-targeted product.
And Stoup considers that fact that 16 to 32 gigabyte solid state memory options are in the works, albeit expensive, and notes that Apple products that currently require 40 gigabytes are good candidates for replacement. Just as Apple was willing to shortchange consumers of memory with the iPod nano after studies proved consumers needed less than 400 songs space on the go, they will afford consumers less than optimal space for the barebones level of hand-input productivity while away from a power source.
The research and development costs that must be behind the nano’s development caused me to think about flash based hard drives for laptops, too. Apple offers different classes of products, as usually defined by different color schemes, but mainly system performance specifications. Apple offers a lifestyle, like IKEA, and the consumer just has to figure out where they fit into it, and buy products accordingly. More expensive means higher class. White plastic means cheap and “durable.” Are you durable? I’m not–I’m power. But the iPod created another class for the chill, yet slightly nerdy.
I know that I have always fallen into the “power” category. But every now and then Apple comes out with a computer appliance of some sort that revolutionizes the way the world works, and it is turn for a portable computer to do it. And later, all of its innovation can trickle down to the other device in the pipelines, in typical Apple fashion. But for now, the new appliance must stick with the “i” branding. Some say “i” for intelligent, I say the “i” means innovation.
When the original iMac came out, it wowed the industry and consumers alike; nowadays people wonder why Apple fails to replace their iMac-like eMac line with a cheap monitor option in a Mac Mini bundle. Then there was the iPod, and I suppose you could say that it borrowed the all and one and cutesy attractive elements of the original iMac (but that’s a stretch). I believe the next iteration will be a new line of products in an “i” line that will innovate tremendously upon our concepts of a handheld platform.
A while back, Apple’s patent application process revealed what looked like an iPod wheel atop a mouse. Embedded in this application were hints at some sort of electrostatic controls. People saw the wheel in the picture and the word electrostatic and as if almost purposefully misled by the patent application, they thought of some improbably iPod mouse. Months later, Might Mouse emerges with all the same ideas but not in the way anyone believed.
Scroll mice aplent, Apple reinvents it. Tablets and handhelds failing as a platform, Apple could offer what consumers truly desire. And that sure is not a keyboard that folds behind the screen. Imagine a dock that includes greater expandability options, like a larger hard drive and wired ports–technology that would communicate with the mobile tablet over a high speed standard beyond what users have experienced before. An unwired version of the Apple docking port, if you will. The FireWireless standard.
A quick glance at the patent application for their “Tablet” Mac might allow us to glean more details as to Apple’s future plans for handheld computing.
The first item that jumps out at me but was ignored by everyone who originally broke the story, including The Register, was the recalling of items that resemble the type of product Apple is attempting to patent. Like the ViewPad 1000 by ViewSonic which combines wifi, touchscreen, a video module, and a PC card slot with a 20 gig hard drive.
The image reminds me of the patent Apple was granted months after this one, which was for an input device (which many assume to be a video port) that would also function within a latch. The patent application for this item deceptively puts it where many VAIO laptops place it. Anyone who uses an iSight knows, however, that one is stuck desperately looking downwards at the keyboard and missing the line of sight of the iSight. A video latch located at the base of the unit, however, would allow easy docking and eliminate this problem through an optimal location between screen and keyboard.
Maybe this latch is a connector that could attach the computer safely and securely not to close a laptop, but to “dock” a tablet to a charging unit, where it could also be used as a PDA would with a keyboard. It would work especially well the patent for an “easel display arrangement” Apple was granted at the same time as their tablet-like patent.
Crazy? What about the patents that Apple has been receiving all this time for portable media players that syncronize with host computers? What about this patent application for a keyboard that integrates iPod-like controls into a keyboard?
Labeled diagrams like these are probably the ugliest computer setups that Apple patent application artists can dream up. But what if those wires were replaced with the firewireless standard and a single power cable was required to connect to the host “dock” which would be capable of charging the tablet element, as well as functioning as an intuit for the syncronization between a main machine and what the user requires to be mobile.
But this is a lot of speculation without organization. To summarize:
An amazingly thin “iNote” tablet targeted towards professionals with a main machine already and consumers in need of an ultraportable solution. Input mechanisms for the machine are threefold: Bluetooth peripherals such as keyboards and mice, docked options that are hardwired to the docking bay, and a software interface to premiere in a new OS as a system preference that combines Inkwell with Spotlight indexes and prediction, with a visual mimic of a scrolling iPod wheel represented on screen and utilized anywhere (but mainly with the thumb in the same fashion as an iPod). Also noteworthy would be the incredible ease of an interface preference that would make most of the computer function as widgets do for easy one handed use.
The machine would dock to the docking bay, but do so through the “video latch” that Apple recently received a patent for, that would be connected to the chassis of the tablet itself, allow secure and stable positioning of the screen while docked (think floating flat screen iMac), and of course using iChat AV wherever WiFi is available. The tablet would run off of Apple’s latest battery technology, a low power Intel chip, FireWireless, Bluetooth, and the most compatible wireless internet standard. And I personally believe they will integrate options for sound emulation through the surface of the screen itself, and maybe even allow an ipod nano or the like to dock to the system itself as a PC card would, according to a patent Engadget mentioned a while ago.
I predict such a system to be presented in January 2007 or as early as Fall 2006 as the must have upgrade for current PowerBook users who want to switch to the new Intel platform or go even further with Apple’s 12-inch powerbook portability and power. Consumers want the iPod version of a computer, and Apple would hate to have to settle for an iPod Video –why not offer them this?