While various leaks and press reports have provided a rough idea for what the tablet might be — sort of a big iPod touch, we’re envisioning, perhaps with 3G wireless service — there are, of course, more questions than answers. And the answers to some of these questions will make a big difference in how well the tablet performs as a gadget and how well it sells and performs financially for Apple.
Here are the 10 things we’re most curious about with regards to the tablet, and our hunch for the answer. Please add your own questions (and more thoughts) in the comments.
This has some of the most implications for how much the tablet will cost, how long the battery will last, how it will be transported, how it will be used, etc.
Reports suggest there are 7-inch and 10-to-11-inch tablets under consideration. A 7-inch tablet strikes us as something most similar to a 'big iPod touch,' and Apple's easiest entry into the e-reader market. It would also probably cost less because of a smaller screen. A 10-to-11-inch tablet seems like it could be more Mac-like, which means it probably will cost more.
As we expect Apple to eventually sell a bunch of tablets, and work tablet/touch features into most or all of its computers, we eventually expect to see both. But it probably makes more sense to debut the smaller one first.
Assuming it's a 7-inch tablet, which has roughly four times the screen space as an iPod touch, we expect a 32 GB edition to cost roughly $600 and a 64 GB edition to cost roughly $700.
We expect Apple to team up with a 3G provider -- perhaps AT&T or Verizon -- which could provide a $200 subsidy with a 2-year contract for 3G service. That could knock prices down to $400 or $500. That would be expensive, but less than the first iPhone cost, and certainly within the range of sanity for perhaps 1-1.5 million people.
Assuming it's a bigger tablet, Apple may charge up to $1,000 -- or maybe even much more -- for it, before subsidy.
It pretty much has to! Unless it's a full Mac running Snow Leopard, there's no way Apple is going to ignore the massive opportunity to sell the 100,000-plus iPhone apps for a second family of devices.
We don't know if it's running the same iPhone OS as the iPhone and iPod touch, or a 'middle' OS between that and Snow Leopard. But either way, we'd be very surprised if the tablet wasn't capable of running iPhone apps.
Follow-ups: Will the tablet support background processing? Will the apps be the same files for both gadgets, or will developers need to maintain a separate tablet app? Will you have to re-purchase a paid app for the tablet that you've already bought for the iPhone?
Until now, we've assumed that the tablet will just be a big iPod touch, with a multi-touch user interface like the iPhone's. That's until a former Apple staffer told the NYT's Nick Bilton that 'You will be very surprised how you interact with the new tablet.'
Of course, this person could be pulling our leg. Or they could be exaggerating. But is there something more than the touchscreen? Will it take audio commands? Will there be handwriting recognition? Will it be mind-controlled?
Since Apple has been so successful getting book and magazine publishers to either make their own digital editions for the iPhone App Store, or work with distributors like Amazon's Kindle store/app, we don't see a need for Apple to make a separate 'iTunes for books,' where it buys wholesale e-books and resells them at retail.
Sure, this may be one of those cases where Apple thinks it can do something better (technology-wise, design-wise, and commerce-wise) and not let Amazon run away with a potentially important market.
But we've also heard that Apple may have initially planned to enter the e-book business a few years ago, and based on how archaic and screwed up the book publishing industry is -- worse than the music industry, our source says -- Steve Jobs supposedly scrapped those plans.
Anyway, the whole point of the App Store (and iTunes in general) is to run at a small profit or near breakeven to help Apple sell more high-margin hardware. It's hard to see how an e-book store would significantly change that equation, when Amazon is already selling Kindle books at a loss, and Apple gets a 30% cut from paid books and magazine apps in the App Store.
Not everyone! It's probably going to be much too expensive in at least the first year or two to be much more than a toy for early adopter-types, wealthy gadget lovers, Apple fanatics, etc.
But we think it will be useful to a wide range of people. Especially: People who spend a lot of time on planes and want to watch movies and read a few chapters of a book; train and bus commuters; college students with ubiquitous wifi who don't want to lug their laptop to class; people considering buying Kindles and netbooks who aren't obsessed with price; etc.
Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster predicts about 1.4 million sales this year at an average $600 if it goes on sale in March. That's not many -- much more in the range of what a Mac sells in a year than an iPod or the iPhone. But it's a start.
Sure, probably a little. But not in a way that would be very painful for Apple. (It will probably also cannibalise iPod touch and iPhone sales a bit, too.)
We think Apple thinks of this as a new market -- something in between portable music/apps devices like the iPod touch and full-power computers like the MacBook. We don't expect to be able to fit the tablet in our pocket and take it everywhere like we do with our iPod. We don't expect to be able to run complex apps like Word and iMovie like we do with our MacBook. We'll still need all three.
The closest competitors are likely going to be netbooks and other tablets, Kindles, etc. And most of the people we know with netbooks don't use them as their primary computers. (Of course, eventually, we expect Apple to sell tablets that can be your primary computer -- at much higher prices.)
One way Apple could sell the tablet is as the 'glue' for all your other Apple products, such as your iPod, iPhone, Apple TV, and Mac. This is sort of the idea that iPhone and Mac developer Craig Hockenberry posited this past March, 'Front Row to Go.'
In addition to whatever the tablet can do on its own, it would also make a radical remote control for an Apple TV, a super Web browser or email organiser tethered to your iPhone (a better Palm Foleo, three years later!), and a fantastic way to control your Mac's iTunes from the living room or kitchen.
No doubt, Apple has even better ideas than these.