Apple Tablet FAQs: Every Question Answered

We've collected every scrap of rumour we've heard, and put them all together into one giant Apple Tablet FAQ. If you have a question about the Apple Tablet then here is where you'll find answers.

Q. What is the Apple Tablet?

A. Rumour points to Apple working on a large iPod touch device with extended computing functionality. This would make it similar to the PC Tablet devices.

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Q. Why are there so many rumours about an Apple tablet?

A. The mythological Apple tablet has a long and distinguished history in Apple folklore.

In May 2001, Kevin Fox, a lead designer at Google said on his blog: "at least five times in the past 10 years engineers at Apple have worked on initiatives to bring a full sized tablet-based computer to market. Though the previous four attempts never saw the light of day, Apple has saved the best for last. This July: Meet iPad".

That was over eight years ago, and rumours and myths of an Apple tablet have been circulating ever since. If true Apple has been working on a tablet PC in some form or another for 18 years now.

Q. Why would Apple want to release a Tablet now?

A. The tablet rumour really returned en-masse when netbook-style computers arrived on the scene. Ever since Asus kicked off the market with its EeePC, Apple has been under pressure from its customers to create a lower cost computing option than the MacBook for lightweight work (email, surfing the web, and so on).

Apple has been quite dismissive of netbooks, and Tim Cook, Apple COO, did comment that the iPod touch was a great way to go about these things. However, demand for a netbook-alternative has never really abated.

There's no denying that customer demand for cheaper computing is driving down the price of laptops, but that doesn't mean Apple has to follow suit. Steve Jobs dismissed netbooks saying "we don't know how to make a sub $500 computer that isn't junk" but also tellingly said: "We'll wait and see how that nascent category evolves," he said. "And we've got some pretty interesting ideas if it does evolve."

The rise of the netbook is coupled with a rise in the popularity of ebook readers (another device that Steve Jobs was famously dismissive of).

Although these remain relatively niche, Apple may believe that it can build a tablet that out-performs both netbooks and ebooks.

Q. What does Apple have to say on this?

A. It's fair to say that all the rumours have come from every source but Apple itself. In 2003, Steve Jobs told the Wall Street Journal, "There are no plans to make a tablet people want keyboards. We look at the tablet and we think it is going to fail."

But Steve Jobs' protestations have never stopped the rumour machine grinding its corn. Not least of which because Apple continuously applies for patents regarding touch screen interfaces, gesture controls, and devices without keyboards. As recently as last month an Apple patent involving online media distribution additions to iTunes (effectively books, magazines, and newspapers) have kept the Apple Tablet rumour alive.

Q. Could it all be smoke and mirrors?

A. When the iPhone launched in 2007 (and the iPod touch shortly afterwards) it was generally felt that the tablet rumours were off the mark after all. All the patents and planning had really been geared towards the iPhone, and subsequently the iPod touch. You didn't have to look far to find Apple's touch screen computer. It just turned out be pocket-sized.

It's still possible that all these rumours and patents are off the mark and that Apple sees the iPod touch and iPhone as its tablet. It's also possible that Apple is testing out ideas, and patenting products, but may decide not to launch a device after all. But there's no smoke without some fire, and reasonably informed sources, such as this article in BusinessWeek, claim that Apple is at least testing devices out.

NEXT: What you will be able to do with an Apple Tablet

Disclaimer: All of the following is based upon rumour and hearsay. We've heard nothing even remotely concrete from Apple regarding a tablet and with such a heritage behind it the Apple Tablet rumour waters are muddy to say the least.

Q. What will it look like?

A. Nobody outside of Apple really knows. If rumours of a late 2010 launch are true it may be that Apple itself hasn't decided yet. In terms of styling most people are envisioning an oversized iPod touch. Reasonably thin with a silver bezel and black plastic case. Some concepts also envision it to appear more similar to the unibody MacBook Air, with an aluminium backing and thin tapered sides.

Q. How big will it be?

A. Most rumours point to a screen either 9.7 or 10in in size. Given that the smallest MacBook screen is 13in and the iPhone screen is 3.5in it would make sense for it to be between these two amounts.

Having said that most ebooks have a smaller screen at 6.5in and Apple could conceivably go for a smaller more pocket-able (or at least handbag-able) device. We think it's unlikely to go any larger than 10inch, but as with all these things you'll find out if Steve Jobs stands up on stage with one in his hand.

Q. What will the screen resolution be?

A. In terms of screen resolution we are expecting it to support 720p HD movie downloads from iTunes, so that would be at least 1280 x 720p, although we have also heard the number 1440 x 1050 bandied around.

As with the iPhone and iPod touch, the screen is expected to feature multi-touch technology and the fingerprint resistant oleophobic coating. Unlike the iPhone it is also expected to react to stylus-input. This will enable more accurate work, especially when using creative applications such as image and video editing.

Q. What's this about an OLED screen?

A. OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) screens are a relatively new technology that Apple is rumoured to be looking at for the Apple Tablet (and we also presume for the next iteration of iPhone). These screens aren't cheap, but they are capable of completely switching off black pixels. The result is a screen with noticeably greater contrast with solid black areas, and much brighter colours as a result.

The only devices we've seen using OLED technology so far are a 11in Sony XEL-1 Television ($2,499) and the Samsung H1 which sports an impressive 3.5in OLED touchscreen (and at £30 per month on a 24 month contract it matches the iPhone). If Apple does include a 10in screen OLED screen it could increase the price dramatically though. Although by the time the Tablet comes out the price may have fallen enough to be palatable.

Another advantage of OLED technology is that it enables displays to be incredibly thin. The Sony XEL-1 is only 3mm thin, for example.

Q. What processor will it have?

A. The iPhone 3GS and 16GB iPod touch are both running a 600Mhz ARM CPU, and we'd expect the Tablet to be more powerful than that. It should be at least 800Mhz (which is where we expect the next iteration of iPhone to be) but it may edge towards the higher specs found in the MacBook.

While Core 2 Duo technology would probably be overkill, Intel's Atom architecture (designed for low power netbooks) goes up to 2GHz clock speed.

Another possibility is that it will make use of the NVIDIA Ion platform. This combines an Intel Atom CPU with a GeForce 9400 graphics card. The result is device that is relatively good value, energy efficient, and capable of running high-definition video. Apple could also implement Snow Leopard's OpenCL technology to harness spare GPU power.

However, the ARM Cortex A8 chipset is taking ARM towards netbook speeds (while Intel is also working its way into the smartphone space). The Arm Cortex A8 is apparantly more power efficient than the Intel Atom as well. Our sister site Computerworld says: "Some ARM chips routinely use 10-20 times less power than Intel for similar operations. Battery usage with ARM chips in prospective netbooks could be measured in days, not hours - much like smartphones."

Yet another option is something completely unknown. Apple proved in the launch of the original MacBook Air that it could get Intel, and other manufacturers, to create completely bespoke chips for them. It is also possible that this will see the introduction of a new chipset designed by PA Semi, the company that Apple bought last year.

NEXT: What OS and software will it run?

Q. Will it run Mac OS X?

A. We don't think so. It's more likely to run a variation on the iPhone and iPod touch software. Of course, this is all based on OS X but in terms of visually identifiable features and core functionality we expect it to be more like an iPhone than a MacBook.

Although the lack of full Mac OS X may be disappointing to some, we imagine the iPhone interface to be a much better fit for a touch screen device. And if the CPU is relatively lightweight running iPhone software quickly would be more appropriate than running Mac OS X slowly.

Q. Will you be able to install Mac software?

A. Again, we think it's more likely to be akin to an iPod touch or iPhone than a MacBook, so we'd expect it to be able to run iPod touch and iPhone software, but not Mac OS X software (although rumour has pointed to Apple testing a device that runs all Mac software).

We expect software to be downloaded from the iTunes Store in the form of apps. Apple has too much invested in the iTunes ecosystem to move back to allowing third-party installation of software.

Having said that, if Apple does produce a device more powerful than an iPhone or iPod touch, and with a pen-input screen it would be a shame not to be able to run really high-end software such as Photoshop. Although we imagine if the Tablet is successful, companies such as Adobe will code specific versions for the device.

Q. What about Apple's own software?

A. Again, we don't know. The presence of iMovie, iPhoto, and GarageBand would make for a much more interesting device. Even more so if it ran Final Cut Express and Logic Express alongside pen-based input. Much of this depends on how powerful the device is, which in turn would affect the price (more on that later). We're sure these are questions Apple's thought long and hard about.

Q. What about other media?

Recent Apple patents show that Apple is considering an all-encompassing digital publishing arm to iTunes that pushes digital versions of books, magazines, newspapers, alongside the current offering of television shows, podcasts, and films. Current ebooks aren't powerful enough to handle this kind of versatility, and laptops aren't handheld. A tablet would be necessary to bring about this kind of digital revolution.

The Apple Tablet could take on both the ebooks and netbooks at the same time, while simultaneously enabling Apple to push forward the iTunes store into new areas.

Of course, we fully expect the device to run all media sold in the iTunes Store such as movies, TV shows, and music.

Q. Will you be able to multi-task between apps?

A. We certainly hope so. Mind you, we're hoping for this functionality soon on the iPhone as well.

Q. What other controls will there be?

A. Much depends on the design. It could feature the home button, volume controls, and sleep/wake up button from the iPhone. We're not sure how much sense these make on a tablet device, especially the Home button which really is to enable you to traverse between apps without the presence of multi-tasking or a dock. In some ways changes to the physical design depend on how much is changed to the interface design.

Q. What will the interface look like?

A. Macworld has mocked up iPhones to a 9 and 10in screen and you'd be surprised how big and ungainly the regular iPhone interface looks when oversized. Especially the keyboard (which we'll come to next). So we wouldn't be surprised to find a redesigned and slightly different interface.

Something between an iPhone and Mac interface would be likeable, although we don't think the multiple windows and Menu bar style-design of Mac OS X would sit comfortably on such a small screen. We're imagining an iPhone style interface with a vastly improved virtual keyboard.

Q. Will it have a physical keyboard?

A. Almost certainly not. That would make it a laptop or netbook and Apple has referred to netbooks as "junky" because they have cramped keyboards.

Q. What will the virtual keyboard be like?

A. The iPhone / iPod touch keyboard is designed to work effectively in a small space. If you size it up in Photoshop it suddenly looks a tad ridiculous with too many gaps and not enough keys. If it has a virtual keyboard we expect it to be a bit more similar to the regular Mac keyboard.

Having said that, we doubt if you'll find it an effective enough replacement for the physical keys on the MacBook. Whatever else the Tablet may be amazing at, we doubt if it'll be good for intensive text-based work (such as writing up papers, or articles such as this one). For that sort of work you'd be better off investing in a MacBook.

Q. Any other interface tricks?

A. Patents point to a device that will recognise pen input, as well as finger input. This will transform image editing apps and ensure that more detailed work is a possibility. But whether this translates to handwriting recognition is another matter. Apple introduced handwriting recognition on the Newton (the project Steve Jobs famously canned immediately upon his return to Apple). Handwriting recognition was commonplace on PDAs, but was never really accurate enough to be a beginner-proof system (you really had to learn special squiggles to get it working effectively).

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