Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The real news on Wednesday will be how Apple decides to pitch the new device

By now, we have a pretty clear picture of what's going to be announced at Apple's media event on Wednesday this week. Steve Jobs's "latest creation" is essentially a giant iPhone. And that begs the question - do people really want to carry a giant phone around with them? Will we really carry two iPhones in our purses? Or will the man-sized phone languish at home, reserved for nocturnal web surfing?

The truth is that whatever Apple announces this week, it is sure to sell out initially, as fanboys, like myself, rush out to purchase the new new thing. But with today's record quarterly financials disguising Apple's diminishing iPod sales, and iPhone competitors beginning to form a line, there's a lot riding on this latest announcement.

What we should really be looking out for in Wednesday's presentation is not the specs of the new tablet itself, but how Steve Jobs decides to pitch the device. Jobs is a brilliant strategist, with a remarkable combination of vision and pragmatism. It was his "digital lifestyle" strategy, first announced during the 2001 MacWorld keynote, that set the agenda for the next decade of consumer electronics. Few realised at the time how influential and prescient that speech would prove to be. Its ramifications went far beyond the products he announced on the day. The digital hub strategy spawned numerous innovations, including the iPod, the iTunes Store, iLife and the iPhone, leaving larger competitors like Microsoft and Sony struggling to keep up.

Rumor has it that Jobs believes this is the greatest thing that he's ever been involved with. My tasting notes for those who wish to truly savor some vintage Jobs - don't get too hung up on the details of the device itself - pay closer attention to the spiel. We know what Jobs wants to sell us. What we don't yet know is why he thinks we'll want it. And that's the key. Jobs's spiel may once again provide an illicit glimpse of the future.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Are a whole bunch of our predictions about to come true?

It was 11 months ago that this blog first proposed the idea of a tablet computer based upon the iPhone OS. 10 months ago, we published a visual of it, that was picked up by numerous blogs around the world.

There were those who scoffed back in April 2009, arguing that the Apple tablet would run Mac OS X, not the iPhone OS. But over recent months, the rumor mill has come around to MacPrediction's way of thinking.

Another prediction that this blog made a couple of years ago also looks set to become reality this week - with the imminent arrival of iWork Touch and iLife Touch.

Plus, we've speculated about the introduction of a notification screen as part of the home screen of the iPhone OS - with the extra screen real estate of the new iSlate, this is likely to finally become a reality.

Finally, two years ago, we proposed a re-brand for the iPhone OS, to clear up confusion with Mac OS X, and clarify that it runs on more devices than just phones. This prediction also seems likely to come true next week.

Apple has always referred to both their Mac and iPhone OSs as "OS X," but contrary to popular belief, they have never describe the iPhone OS as "Mac OS X". It seems that Apple uses the brand "OS X" to refer to Darwin, the Mach 3.0 and FreeBSD 5 layers of their OS, plus various other libraries such as the QuickTime media layer. On top of this, they have two different flavours of windowing system - the one which runs on Macs, which is currently called "Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard," and the other, which runs on iPhones and iPod Touch, and soon the iSlate/iPad, which is informally referred to as the iPhone OS. It really is high time they gave it a proper name. Maybe with version 4.0, and the new tablet, it will finally get the name it deserves.

If all of the above happens next week, this blog is throwing a party, and you're all invited ;)

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Introducing the all new iSlate with Magic Touch

Take a sheet of letter paper and fold it in half. You're holding something about the size of Apple's new iSlate. Imagine that scrap of paper is a beautiful, shiny combination of glass, aluminum and plastic, weighing about 10 ounces. How does it feel?

The first thing you'll notice is that, unlike the iPhone, you want to hold it with both hands. And this presents a bit of a problem. You don't have a hand free to touch the screen.Your thumbs are resting on the edges of the device, and are not long enough or manoeuvrable enough to reach the middle. Your fingers, however, are idly stretched across the back of the device.

And this gives us the clue we need to suspect that there's some truth the rumors doing the rounds that Apple's working on a multi touch surface for the back of a new iPhone. But perhaps it's destined for the new tablet, instead (or as well). More than just a gimmick, this all-new input method would enable users to interact with the device without moving their hands from its sides. It also has the benefit of enabling you to use the device without obscuring the screen with your hands.

How would it work? Some gestures, such as scrolling and swiping will be easy, because precise positioning is not essential. But what about tapping buttons and entering text? I think the way this will work is that when you tap and hold, a cursor will appear on the screen (or the text magnifying loupe when you're over text). This will persist until you release your tap, enabling you to be more precise in your positioning before you finish your tap. The cursor icon would probably look like a circle, rather than an arrow - which would be more fitting with the accuracy of a finger, relative to a mouse.

The neat thing about this approach is that it doesn't require any major changes to the existing input method of the iPhone OS - and so all three devices: iPhone, iPod touch and iSlate, could run on the same system, regardless of whether they have multi touch on the reverse. I'm going to take a guess and say they'll call this system "Magic Touch."

While this solution might seem a little too "out there" for a finished product, if you do a little experimenting with that folded over piece of paper, I think you'll realise that this could work. And your accuracy would be pretty good anyway, because it turns out you can intuitively judge a position on the back, relative something on the front.

There is even a prescident for Apple taking this "front and back" approach in a design. The original iMac G5 had its power button positioned directly behind the power light on its front. In order to hit the power button, you had to grope around the back of the device in order to hit it. But the thing is, you didn't grope - you intuitively found it, because the power light on the front guides you hand to the spot on the back. Apple's design team frequently reprises successful concepts from earlier products in this way.

Note: This article is just speculation based upon rumor. The original touch sensitive casing rumor was put about by Goldman Sachs analyst Robert Chen, and related to the iPhone, rather than a tablet.