It would not be the end of a slow news week without more rumors concerning an Apple product with a large touchscreen. Some call it a netbook, others say a so-called "mediapad" is probably on the way, and now comes word of a "tablet" Mac, rumored to be headed our way in 2010. What gives?
I think the rumors all describe a single device, This is the oversized iPod touch that I'm calling the media pad, but could also be seen to be a small tablet or even a netbook without a physical keyboard, just one that appears on-screen.
Some have started calling this a tablet, which is true enough, but makes me think of Microsoft's not-very-successful tablet effort. Apple, I think, could do better.
Suppose Apple were to do a tablet PC right. Call it the MacPad: A MacBook or MacBook Pro with both a keyboard and a screen suitable for writing or drawing. It would be a major departure from current Apple touchscreens, which are not intended for use with a stylus--useful for drawing or notetaking.
This dual mode touchscreen could prove very interesting, allowing more handwriting recognition that could potentially drive Mac sales and improve applications. Artists and photographers, many of whom already use third-party graphics tablets, would presumably flock to the new tablet MacBooks.
Handwriting could become a much more standard part of Mac apps. Microsoft has tried this, but Windows tablet PC hardware remains far from common. Apple might better popularize a computer that is optimized for handwriting than Microsoft's partners have been able to.
Apple might also be able to figure out, finally, the best way to turn a keyboard-based laptop into a pad and back again. Swivel screen? Hinge? Apple's industrial design team could take an innovative approach to the challenge.
This is all speculation--brainstorming, almost--because even the most optimistic rumors have not pointed toward this sort of machine, though it's something Apple has doubtless considered (and rejected) at some point.
Maybe the current success of the company's touchscreen products, the iPhone and iPod touch, can convince the company to expand touchscreens up its product line. As for the current rumors, they seem to all reference a single device, with a touchscreen, and perhaps running iPhone 3.0 software.
It will be intended primarily for entertainment, to be sure, but will also likely sport its share of business apps, just as the iPhone now does. The persistence and increasing frequency of these rumors could indicate that Apple is thinking big, but I hope Apple will think bigger still, at least where touchscreens are concerned.