2010: A tablet odyssey

David Braue
14 January, 2010
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By now, the question of whether Apple is or isn’t going to launch its long-awaited tablet has become all but moot: the world’s collective base of fans, onlookers, observers, and even learned types like analysts and competitors, seem to have collectively wished the still-hypothetical iSlate into existence. If (OK, when) it appears, expect a truly 2001-esque response as the world’s gathered cro-magnons gaze upon it and attempt to work it into their worldview.

Let’s just hope Apple can come up with a better name than iSlate. Because a slate, if you stop to think for a moment, is actually a reference to a chalkboard – a decidedly low-tech tool that has been all but phased out in the academic world where it once reigned supreme. Hardly a rallying cry for the new generation, really.

iPad would be a good name, but the potential for confusion with iPod is too great so there’s no way Apple would go down that path. iTab? iReader? iPaper? These names might be more appropriate given that time has seen Apple – correctly, one could argue – shift its focus away from making a netbook-style computer, to a sort of Kindle on steroids. This will preserve the MacBook brand, while built-in 3G will make the tablet functionally like a big iPhone, as has been described, but partnerships with both print and multimedia content providers will allow for direct download of all sorts of content.

If you think this is a way to revolutionise the delivery of sheet music, take a number. Indeed, by circumventing the morass of e-book standards, licensing issues and competing interests that has so far stymied the tablet market, Apple could well own this space in the way that the iPhone has owned the smartphone market.

With all the noise over the Apple tablet, you’d think there was nothing else of interest likely to happen in 2010. But that, of course, is far from the truth.

This year, for example, will be the year that 3D television comes to fruition – with a major focus on the technology at this month’s CES in Las Vegas, and promises from all major TV vendors to ship 3D-capable product well before the Christmas buying season. That means you’ll be able to watch the 3D Blu-ray version of Avatar to your heart’s content, glasses and all, right in the comfort of your living room. An expanding array of content will make the offering even more compelling, particularly as newly-released 3D cameras trickle into mere mortals’ hands and 3D video sharing meets the global distribution of YouTube — and iTunes.

Could the 3D-capable iMac, complete with the long-elusive Blu-ray drive, be far behind?

Then there are seemingly boring advances, such as USB 3.0 – a blistering-fast 4.8Gbps device interface that should provide enough bandwidth to carry video signals (even in 3D) and push data to and from ultra-fast solid state disks (SSDs) at previously unheard-of speeds.

Expect faster Mac Pros, of course, as Intel’s latest chips trickle down to Apple’s manufacturing facilities and the company bolsters the systems’ CPUs to differentiate from the fast-as-a-scalded-cat i7-powered iMac. Core i3, i5, i7, and i9 will lead the way in the Mac (and Windows) world, while Intel’s Xeon server-class processors will once again make the Mac Pro a system that design professionals drool over.

In amongst all these, it wouldn’t be inconceivable for Apple’s next MacBook refresh to incorporate built-in 3G features. Dongles lose their charm after a while.

There will, of course, be major updates of Apple’s key applications, embracing Snow Leopard’s full 64-bit design and all the speed it brings with it – and tapping into the power of developments like OpenCL and Grand Central Dispatch.

Whether or not there’s an iPhone redesign is yet to be seen, since the iPhone 3GS has been such a hit and ticks so many boxes. That said, the intractable need for progress probably means we’ll see iPhone 3.5 software, or perhaps even 4.0 as Apple works to dovetail its tablet and iPhone application platforms. And what better way to do this than with a new iPhone design, perhaps one with dual cameras to deliver full two-way videoconferencing, and a still-faster processor.

Although it may just be wishful thinking, 2010 would be even better if it were the year Apple got with the program and updated its languishing Apple TV device with Blu-ray, TV recording, EPG support and the other accoutrements that have become standard issue across the industry.

Well, we can all dream a little, can’t we?

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