With two days to go to the Apple "media event" in San Francisco, rumours are piling in by the hour. Following Apple's 50% hike in quarterly profits, announced last evening, pundits are now focusing on Wednesday morning's conference. Last week reports came in that Steve Jobs is highly satisfied with the new tablet. The device, which is likely to be called the iPad (with iSlate now a poor second), is said to run all iPhone applications and to have 3G and wifi capabilities built in (just like the iPhone).
Much interest centres on Apple's expected bid to dominate the ebook market. The Kindle and other readers, including the successful Sony range, rely on the slow e-ink screen technology. While this has big benefits in terms of battery life, it is less than impressive in use because of the tardy refresh rate and the need for strong ambient lighting. A colour screen, with higher resolution than that on the iPhone, is likely to offer a much more satisfying reader experience for books, newspapers and magazines. If Apple can repeat the success of the App Store with books and other written media, we could be on the threshold of a major revolution in reading.
Until we see the actual beast and hear Apple's plans, it is difficult to decide whether or not the iPad will be the success everyone is expecting. If it is simply a larger iPhone I have my doubts. The iPhone has successfully demonstrated the benefits of convergence–bringing the utility of several devices into one package. Now, it seems, we are to converge sideways with another device to carry around. Few people would want to use the iPad as a main phone, even if the capability is available.
There is also the thorny problem of text input. I can see the advantages of the iPad in terms of reading, web browsing, games, videos and all the things that the iPhone does well in miniature. Even text input on the iPhone is acceptable because of the ability to hold the phone and use two thumbs to type.
No doubt the iPad will have an enhanced virtual keyboard (there have been rumours of tactile feedback to mimic using a physical board) but the larger tablet will have to rest flat on a table to achieve a comfortable ten-finger typing experience. And in that position the screen will be difficult to read. Equally, if the pad is angled upwards on some kind of stand, the viewing experience will be better but typing more difficult.
I am sure Apple have worked on this aspect and I am ready to be surprised. At the moment, for heavy text input, there is no substitute for the humble laptop or netbook with its adjustable screen and flat keyboard. So I await Apple's solution with a great deal of interest.