Reports are piling up that Apple will unveil its much-anticipated tablet computer before the end of the month, and start selling the device in March. While it will fail as a laptop replacement – as has and will any device without a physical keyboard – it is going to kick some serious ass as a home entertainment component.
There are plenty of people on the web who claim to know the exact specifications, but thanks to Apple’s secrecy that is just so much speculation. What we have on fairly good authority is that it will be called the iSlate, will have a 10-inch or thereabout touch screen, and will run a lot of standard Apple software even if it doesn’t use the standard OS X operating system.
And given the parentage we can count on it being a pretty little thing.
Still, it will be too big to replace your iPod, too under-powered to replace your laptop and too expensive to buy as a standalone toy. So what will it be good for? We’re glad you asked.
Microsoft and Sony have invested heavily in what they consider to be the future of what they pompously call “the digital living room”. In their minds this is a single device, preferably a shiny black obelisk, with an internet connection, a Blu-ray player, a truckload of onboard storage and enough processing power to handle serious gaming. In other words, an expensive device that is either impossible to upgrade or locks you into buying proprietary MS or Sony accessories at a huge premium to the actual hardware that you get.
Except that home entertainment doesn’t work that way. It consists of discrete components that accumulate over time, are easy to swap out and don’t cost a fortune all at once.
The cool kids already have a Mac Mini (or, in case of poverty, an outdated Mac laptop) hooked up to the TV on one side and the hifi on the other. That machine is controlled by wireless mouse and keyboard or by using an iPhone or iPod Touch as a remote. Storage is by way of increasingly cheap external hard drives that can be daisy-chained as needed.
Macs are popular for these solutions because they’re pretty much made for it. You can control the home entertainment system machine from your home-office laptop without having to be a computer expert. You can plug in an Aiport Express and send music from the external hard drives under the TV to the hifi in the bedroom wirelessly.
What’s missing is a neat way to surf the web without having to squint at your TV from 20 meters away or at a tiny iPhone screen, and e-book integration so you can keep the digital books on the same system as the music and video. Say a little full-colour device with a 10 inch touch screen and long battery life, which can also act as the worlds best universal remote.
Who knows, the iSlate may be a popular device in its own right, especially if it is cheap enough. But more importantly, it is the last missing piece of the Apple home entertainment puzzle. While its failed Apple TV device will continue to languish in rightful obscurity, the iSlate plus the Mini plus the Airport plus the Touch will put it right at the front of the race.
Of course Apple is still missing the gaming ability of the Playstation 3 or the Xbox 360. But it doesn’t make TVs, or amplifiers, or speakers either, so there’s no reason for it to enter the hugely competitive gaming space. It can probably count on Nintendo and others to handle that component.
By Phillip de Wet
Photo: One of iSlate concepts by islate.org