Rumours of the so-far-vaporous Apple/Mac Tablet, the unicorn of the computing world, are swirling around the sites again this week. We have stories of Apple folk making more frequent trips to the Far East; of meetings with Australian newspaper magnates and regurgitated rumours of similar conflabs with US publishers.
Whatever form the new device takes, the target market is becoming clearer. The machine is likely to be a media centre for on-the-go consumption; and not just for videos, photos, streamed tv and music but with a strong emphasis on the published word.
There is little doubt that with the right product and the success of the iPhone and iPod under its belt, Apple could take the book market by storm. The current crop of electronic readers, such as the Kindle and the Sony Touch, suffer from a major problem: they are single-function devices in a world where everything is moving towards convergence. Why, people ask, carry around two computers when one will do everything? Even the iPhone can do everything if you are content with the small screen, so an Apple tablet will be that much more attractive as a convergence device.
Subscription-based newspapers are also the future (this is why, of course, these meetings with press barons may or may not have taken place). Again, Apple with its iTunes store and proven track record is ideally placed to push this new technology forward.
The current book readers have an Achilles' heel which is, strangely, also their crowing glory: the screen. The technology may be slow a-refreshing and not very good in low-light conditions, but it is very miserly when it comes to power consumption. My iPhone needs charging at least once a day; the Sony Touch can stagger along for two weeks on a charge, even with heavy use. I can imagine that an Apple backlit LED screen would offer a better reading experience, but at what cost?
I have little doubt that we will see convergence between book readers and computers, but Apple (or someone) will have to crack the battery problem. At the moment I find the Sony very convenient. I can set off on a trip without worrying that the battery will give out during a flight. This is unlikely to be the case with the Apple device. Nevertheless, soon as this unicorn becomes reality I shall have my finger on the order button. I am really curious to see if I can now converge my media habits.