WIth the imminent release of iPhone 3.0, Apple is introducing landscape mode to all of its key apps. MacPredictions believes that this gives us a clue to the format of Apple's much-rumored low cost tablet.
Imagine an iPhone in landscape mode with the keyboard active. Now imagine that the screen is twice as deep - so it becomes 480x640 (VGA format, protrait) rather than the normal iPhone 320x480. It's not such a stretch to imagine this, as the illustration above demonstrates. You end up with a tablet capable of presenting 42 iPhone apps on a single springboard screen.
What's the significance of this? Screen density. As technology moves forward, screens become increasingly dense - that is, more pixels are packed into the same amount of space. As a consequence, the user interface elements become smaller. This doesn't matter so much on a Mac, where for example, the high density screen of a 17" MacBook Pro shows everything much smaller than the lower density screen of the MacBook Air. But on an iPhone, the size of the user interface matters a great deal, since the widgets must be the appropriate size to be operated by fingers.
Palm once solved this problem by leaping to a double density format. With the Tungsten T, Palm effectively doubled the resolution of their display from 160x160 pixels to 320x320, whilst the physical dimensions of the device remained the same. They were even able to provide backwards compatibility to Palm OS 4.0 applications, by offering a lower resolution mode (effectively two-for-one pixels).
Apple could perform a similar trick with the new iPhone 3.0 software for its tablet offering. By doubling the screen resolution, they can enable their key apps to take advantage of the higher resolution screen, whilst providing support for lower resolution iPhone apps. Moving forwards, they could encourage their app developers to support both native resolutions (320x480 and 480x640).
The really nice thing about such a device is that it could be manufactured relatively cheaply, since it would run the lightweight iPhone OS, rather than a full version of Mac OS X. It could also be touch screen without the bother of trying to work out how to retrofit Multi-touch onto Mac OS X (a seemingly intractable problem).
Estimated dimensions 85 x 120 x 10mm
Don't forget to check out this visual in full resolution to get a feel for all its VGA goodness.