Obligatory iTablet speculation post

posted 18 January 2010, updated 18 January 2010

So the iTablet is coming, or so it seems, and everyone is reading tea-leaves, so here's my own swing:

I know this is ridiculous, but the moment I saw this invitation and this tweet from Ricky, I thought: what if the tablet isn't a device on its own? What if it is more like a Wacom tablet -- not a full device on its own, but more of a peripheral?

Imagine a device the size of a mousepad. It sits on your desk, replacing the mouse itself. It syncs to your mac, and displays a picture of the screen itself -- or a portion of the screen. It acts like a touch screen, or if you want it to, a drawing tablet (it would let you "zoom in" on the drawing area, like Mobile Safari does). In addition to ordinary clicks, you'd be able to use a variety of gestures to simplify various tasks. Applications that were compatible with the device could send dedicated UI to the tablet itself, giving you a range of buttons and tools within a fingertip's reach -- this would be pretty useful in Photoshop, for instance, but other apps as well.

So then you're done drawing your picture on your big screen, and you want to walk across the room and show it to somebody, or take it home with you to work on your home machine. You just pick it up, and walk away. Your tablet has a copy of the document. You can work on it, annotate it, mail it to people, and if you take it to another Mac, it can transfer it right across. Quickly, seamlessly, in the best Apple style. Of course, because it's sort of like an iPhone, it will also have apps and dedicated services, but where it will really shine is as an ultraportable extension of your existing system.

If it were true, this solves a couple of key questions surrounding the tablet:

  1. Jobs has been delaying a tablet for years because it needs to be useful for more than "surfing the web in the bathroom". So if they do reveal a tablet, it's going to come with a use-case nobody's thought of so far. Sure, it might work as an eBook reader too, but Steve doesn't want to build one of those, so I doubt that will be the primary use-case.
  2. There's been a lot of buzz about the fact that the tablet may be using gestures in some new way, since Apple recently took down the website of FingerWorks, a gestural-input startup they acquired five whole years ago. FingerWorks' primary product was called, coincidentally, the iGesture Pad, and (though I didn't know this when I started writing this) it has all the mouse-replacement features I talked about: clicking, scrolling, dragging, etc.
  3. Finally, lots of people have asked: if I already have an iPhone and a Mac desktop or laptop, why do I need a tablet? Is there really a gap in the market there? And this answers the question: it doesn't replace your iMac or your Powerbook, it complements both -- hell, it might even sync with your iPhone too.

All of which leads me to say that if this isn't what the iTablet is, then they should get started on something like this right away. But maybe they had this idea five years ago, when they bought FingerWorks, and it's taken all this time to get it right. In which case, I expect to be very excited indeed when I see what they've come up with.