The clock is winding down to the big reveal on Wednesday at Apple's major press event. It could be an iSlate, or an iSlab, or an iTablet, or perhaps even an iPod Tablet Edition. There are almost as many potential names for the mythic device that may not exist as there are pundits speculating about what the device will or won't do--myself included...if it exists.
If Apple does not announce a touchscreen tablet device of some kind it may be the single biggest failing in the history of the rumor mill. There are some rumors that seem wilder than others--like the Apple tablet will have 3D graphics, but there is also a diverse selection of very plausible speculation.
Based on the prevailing rumors, my PC World peer Bill Snyder predicts that the Apple tablet will be all flash with no substance and will not have any place in a business environment. I disagree. While I agree with some of the potential pitfalls Snyder lays out, I believe the Apple tablet PC could be uniquely suited for small business environments.
A platform like the Apple tablet--if it is based on the iPhone mobile operating system and is equipped to run the extensive library of iPhone apps--could be perfect for small business. Smartphones in general have evolved to the point that they are just very small computers, and for just about any function a business user could want to perform "there is an app for that".
There have been times, both as an iPhone owner and as a Windows Mobile smartphone owner, that I have chosen to leave behind my notebook when traveling. The smartphone can get my email, surf the Web, conduct instant messaging chats with colleagues, and view and edit documents (with the right tools depending on the platform).
The legions of iPhone users already try to use the device for everything, and there is a growing segment of apps aimed at endowing the iPhone with more enterprise-friendly capabilities, and enabling the secure integration of the iPhone with the business world.
While newer devices like the Droid and Nexus One have leapfrogged the iPhone in terms of hardware specifications, the iPhone is still relatively fast, has an intuitive interface, is equipped with a clear and bright display, and has apps available for virtually any purpose. The biggest obstacle to simply using the iPhone as a primary mobile computing device is size.
An Apple tablet that provides the brilliant display, extensive battery life, intuitive interface, and endless catalog of apps of the iPhone in a larger form factor you can actually read and interact with could be a device perfectly suited for small business users. Not only is there "an app for that", but most apps are free or very cheap--especially when compared with the investment required for full-blown computer software.
I certainly don't expect large enterprises to abandon traditional desktop and notebook computers and deploy tens of thousands of Apple tablets--especially if the tablet is running on the iPhone mobile operating system as opposed to Mac OS X. A Windows-based tablet has an automatic advantage in the enterprise, although the HP device demonstrated by Steve Ballmer at CES this year was less than compelling.
Let's face it. Until Wednesday rolls around and Apple unveils the epic new tablet PC...or it doesn't, Snyder's speculation is just as possible as mine. Assuming that Apple launches a tablet PC of some kind or another at this event, the success of that device will be determined by its overall functionality and utility balanced against its price...mixed with a healthy dose of Apple's Teflon reputation and devoted fan base.