Tablets

Podcast: Would an Apple tablet compete with netbooks or the Kindle?

The Apple tablet has the tech world frothing at the mouth, but would it be a netbook replacement or an e-book reader? This podcast offers some perspective.

Podcast

The Apple tablet has the tech world frothing at the mouth, but would an Apple tablet be more of a netbook replacement for light computing or more of an e-book reader? TechRepublic and ZDNet editors bat around that question and talk about who the target audience might be and whether or not Apple could really make tablets cool enough for the masses.

The Big Question podcast is a joint production from ZDNet and TechRepublic that I co-host with ZDNet Editor in Chief Larry Dignan. This week's guest is Sam Diaz, a Senior Editor for ZDNet and Silicon Valley correspondent.

You can play this 19-minute episode from the Flash-based player at the top of the page, or:

Stories discussed in this episode:

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

20 comments
dogknees
dogknees

Why does it have to be "or". Perhaps it could do both! Why would we compare it to other devices, think of it's capabilities and work out new uses. We are professionals after all and should be expected to find new ways of doing things.

cbellur
cbellur

I always thought the Kindle was kind of a dumb idea. It's fairly big and it's a dedicated computer -- it allows you to read books and a few other things. The great thing about computers is that they are general machines -- they can do anything from play video games to record professional musicians to editing video. They've been able to display text quite well for a very long time. Of course, you're not going to record a 48 track project on a netbook (but you could bootleg some hippy jam band, if that's the crap you're into). The point is -- computers can do more than one thing. It's their advantage. Your coffee maker can only do one thing. I don't see the sense in limiting a computer to 1 task and charging so damn much for it. So of course, any computer with a small form factor can depose the Kindle. It's a very vulnerable machine at the price of a laptop. I hear the e-ink display is amazing, which is hard to believe -- it's black and white. But Kindle fans say, I need to see it to believe it. I don't know anyone who owns one. So I guess when I see the display, I'm gonna run out and spend $500 on one of these things? They do know a Mac mini costs $600, right? The sell those on Amazon. It's a different thing (not portable), but the price of the Kindle is outrageous. Even a refurbished 1st generation Kindle costs more than a brand new netbook. The Kindle underwhelmed me from day 1, and I think just about anything can compete with it. My Asus EEE PC with Linux has an e-book reader. It could be done much better (very small selection of uninteresting books), but it is possible to read a book on a netbook. The only things going for the Kindle are: built in free wireless distribution network (not wifi, but CDMA or whatever) -- this is not a trivial point, but as wifi hotspots become ubiquitous, this may not be as big of a deal as it once was. It has the e-ink display that users love. Amazon is a "book store" at heart, so they have the publishers and the content. Others can do this too, but probably not as easy as Amazon. The Kindle has amazing battery life due to it's e-ink display. OLED is going to make battery life better on newer laptops and netbooks... and it's color! How can you really get a textbook in Kindle when it is b&w? I can't see how a large format textbook like Grey's Anatomy (it's so my fave show too, LOL, ROTFL :P ) would be anything but small grey anatomy on a Kindle. It would look so much better on my 30" 2550 x 1600 monitor. Plus, I can watch episodes of Jon & Kate plus 8 on it. Can you do that on a Kindle? Huh? I love Amazon (I have their credit card and buy about 40% of everything I own there), but the Kindle always had me wondering -- why would I pay so much for a computer that is so limited? Kindle is a Linux box, when you get down to it. But you're not going to be playing songs on Anorak or browsing the web on Firefox. Yes, an Apple tablet, with Apple e-reading software and an Apple disto network would pretty much destroy the Kindle, but I am surprised it lasted so long. You can get the NY Times on a Kindle? Wow, because I can get it on my desktop, laptop, and netbook. I read it quite frequently. The only way I can see Amazon be competitive is to have Kindle as a service that you can run on any machine. A lot of people will still want the Kindle device, because of that amazing e-ink display and convenience. But then people may very well chose to use Kindle as a service on whatever internet accessible machine they have. Some may want both the Kindle and the online service -- for example if they have a kick-ass 30" monitor at home in front of a comfortable chair, that may be a better experience than the Kindle. But then they can read the same book on the Kindle when they take the tube to Uxbridge. The CDMA wireless thing is neat, but how many times have you had the urgent need to download reading material that can't wait until you find a hot spot? People can stock up on e-reading material when connected. It's extremely convenient, but e-reading platforms can do without it. Now, if you wake up in the woods with a strong urge to read Walden, then maybe the Kindle is for you. I have yet to meet a Kindle user, and most of my friends are voracious readers. Yeah -- they need to get Kindle out of the Kindle and into anything, and they will do much better. Make the service free, charge for the books, etc. It may undercut some Kindle sales, but I think in the long run it will allow them to compete. Amazon already does have an option to download a lot of books, but this would be taking it a step further and unifying it under one platform and common user experience. Maybe they can publish the books in a standard format, like Acrobat? I just have enough junk to lug around. I am going on vacation and I am taking my work laptop and my personal netbook. The thought of another device and another charger... Ugh! Enough already! We can read books on any computer or just read a regular print book. This is just one device too many that I will never ever own, even if it cost $100. But it's expensive!

dcolbert
dcolbert

The Apple Tablet is going to be stillborn, because it will be neither a compelling Netbook alternative nor a compelling eBook Reader. The form factor they want has a market - but it should be a modular concept that builds as options on top of a base device. People want their iPhone and iPhone apps, but sometimes they want a bigger screen, or a smaller screen, or the ability to output to a television, or their car stereo... maybe the ability to to a traditional LCD display at one time, with an eInk reader display at another. As it is, if you've got an iPhone, and you've got a Macbook - this tablet is just another device in between to carry around and to maintain separate content libraries on. It'll become more of a hassle than it is worth. True believers will buy it. But it'll be a big, awkward iPod, a small, inflexible notebook, an oversized phone, a huge portable gaming system, a eBook reader with a crummy LCD display, an overpriced Netbook with limited input/output options. There is this huge demand for this device, but no one has figured out how to correctly deliver it - I wouldn't be surprised if Apple realises this before RTM and pulls the plug on this project. This is the Apple "Malcom in the Middle" device - except, Maclom was actually an overachiever. This is going to be the completely underwhelming middle child.

Chief Bottle Washer
Chief Bottle Washer

An Apple tablet would be the "Middle child." Why the heck should Apple spend R&D cash on a device that no on truly needs. You have your cell phone and you have your laptop. Plug in, shut up and get back to work. What a lame topic. All it did was get a bunch of PCer's together so that they can bash Apple yet again. Juvenile.

i.hilliard
i.hilliard

I have already come across a number of service people who enter their job cards over palm tops, running a web interface over VPN. The problem is that the palm tops are just too small and inconvenient when it comes to writing reports. When someone can come up with a Tablet Computer that is reasonably robust and not cost the earth, then I can see a lot more companies, with trades people out in the field, providing these as their primary connection back to the office. Ian

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

What do you see field techs doing with at tablet that they wouldn't do with a lightweight laptop? Doesn't the functionality of a tablet derive more from apps that take advantage of the hardware? Without tablet-specific apps, isn't it just another over-priced laptop?

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

Tablet apps would have to be the differentiator. And it has to go beyond just pen computing and note-taking. For example, I think there would need to be multi-touch apps for reading and skimming big documents, quickly flipping through big slide shows, quickly manipulating diagrams, easy whiteboarding (that could wirelessly project onto a screen and/or an online collaboration session), etc.

dogknees
dogknees

We shouldn't be limited by "conventional" ways of doing work. Every professional should be constantly looking at the latest tech and figuring out how to make effective use of it. If they're not, they're not professionals. As IT pro's we should be showing the way to business people.

brian
brian

I had a Toshiba tablet as part of a test program within a fortune 50 company. Mainly I used it for travel. On the plus side, it was very light and perfect to take notes on at meetings. It didn't drive everyone nuts with typing noise while someone was talking! It also had an incredible battery life - something like 6+ hours of use. On the minus side, it was very slow and HOT. So resting it on your leg meant third-degree burns! IF there was a tablet with decent speed, memory, and weight it would fit into the business traveler/manager requirements nicely. Also assuming that you aren't an IT guy or high-end user with specialized needs.

manavbhardwaj
manavbhardwaj

I think this will not be an exception to IPhone... Apple tablet can be a new trend setter in the industry and drive consumer expectations.

CyberGuerilla
CyberGuerilla

The somewhat-mobile device would be extremely useful whenever you need an easy-to-use interface to capture signatures. I can imagine the tablet becoming a standard equipment, say, in the courier delivery industry.

boweb
boweb

Kindle and Netbooks are completely different concepts. Tablets PC is an market that isn't well defined yet. It hasn't taken of because lack of good designs. Although types like the Amtek iTablet come close without being an glorified LCD screen. Personaly I only will buy one if it has the same specs as an standard laptop qua speed and memory. Because its only useful if my applications run smoothly on it. And using it as an dumb terminal is not an option. An other thing is that it needs to be available in large screen sizes, I use to own an 10" version, it was great but in the long run the screen was just to small. Price is an other factor, if it has Netbook specs, then the price must be very low, if it has Laptop specs then an price range of current laptop series would be acceptable. Apple version would be more expensive, off course.

RookieTech
RookieTech

idk i never liked apple computers first time i used one i knew very little they are more for designing and media than business (i know that media and designing are businesses to :P) but im a pc lol P.S. i have nothing against them :)

cbellur
cbellur

I didn't like Apple and was a PC user for the past 25 years (obviously, before windows). Then I got a Mac Pro last week, and I have converted to Mac. They won me over. It's a fast computer that is simple to use, and it is Unix. You really can do shell scripts and all that, right out of the box. It has java and JBoss pre-installed (lesser models only have java, but one can install JBoss, WebSphere, probably Weblogic -- even on a Mac mini). No Windows machine ships with Java. It's verboden in the Microsoft world -- they like to pretend that the most popular programming language/platform doesn't exist, which is reason enough to bail on MS. But their OS is crap! Even Windows 7 is just a rip off of OS X. Oh, you shake the windows instead of clicking the side mouse buttons. Great accesibility feature! I personally don't like that -- OS X has a better implementation of window tiling (Expos?) which has been around since 2003. Sorry, but Windows 7 is pretty much an old version of OS X, without the solid Unix core. Also, at least in the SF bay area, I would recommend not going to the Apple store. Get it at Amazon. The Apple store is for ninnies and the employees are snobby college students that aren't helpful. I'm assuming most people here are savvy enough to figure out how to use a Mac. I completely understand why people wouldn't like Apple in the past -- very closed off and their Macs weren't that great. But when they went with the Unix platform and Intel chips, they made some great changes which have opened Apple up. I only got the CPU from Apple, and bought the monitor and peripherals elsewhere. Their monitors are overpriced by about 25%, but they know some people have to have the Apple logo on their monitor. Their monitors are nothing special and have the same acceptable allowance for dead pixels (some ISO Level II standard that says 5 pixels in 1,000,000 can be defective) that any cheaper monitor can meet. It's the CPU and the OS that are great and better values when compared to PCs. I see more and more employers (for software development) that are giving their employees Macs. It makes sense. They are actually cheaper than PCs and much more reliable and easy to use -- less techs needed, less downtime for the developer. I have seen very highly paid developers have several days of downtime due to PC problems. Macs are not bullet proof, but they're much more reliable. This Popular Mechanics article compares Mac to PC in an Apple to Apple way (pardon the pun :P ROTFL, LOL!) http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/reviews/4258725.html?page=1 Also, I looked at videos of Windows 7. It's pretty much an OS X rip off. They have no shame. I'll have to go with the innovator over the copy cat, especially when the innovator makes more cost effective and reliable computers that are easier to use. (The innovator is Apple, BTW). Yes, they're even a worse monopoly than MS. But they make great products. Until Linux become a viable platform (with Google backing, even though just for netbooks at first, this seems even more likely), Mac OS X is the best show in town. I have 1 PC, 2 linux machines, and 1 OS X machine. I like to think of OS X as the best Linux distro ever. I know, it's Unix, it's close, not the same. But it has everything I love about Linux -- stability, sensible use of resources -- you can do better on half the memory on a Mac. Check out the Popular Mechanics article. It's absolutely true. My head exploded when I realized how fast, efficient, and elegant Macs are. Unfortunately, I still need to use a PC for work. I could virtualize the Mac, but I don't want any of that Windoze crap on my Mac. Not even on a separate partition.

rlyons
rlyons

I agree with you about not liking them, mainly because I am a PC person. But I can't deny that I want to try out an apple tablet! There are thing I'd worry about though, if I did have one. I'd worry about the screen for starters. No cover lid like a laptop, and it will get used and touched daily. Sure, it'll be durable, but how long will that last? And it all depends on how it's done... I think it could be business productive if it is produced in the right way... But, what do I know? I'm only a kid to some of you lot!

JJPEngr
JJPEngr

I have been a Mac user at home since 1995. During that time I have had 3 macs and just bought a fourth. I had one for over 10 years and was able to upgrade processors, hard drives, and OS until OSX arrived. I have a 5 year old Powerbook that works great. I updated the hard drive and Mac OSX 3 times. In the same time I went through 8 Windows PCs at work. So, I definitely agree that the long term cost of ownership is lower and reliability higher with Macs.

cbellur
cbellur

One thing -- Macs actually have a lower cost of ownership. http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/reviews/4258725.html?page=1 Also, you can continually upgrade a Mac for years. Each new version of OS X is a $25 upgrade, and people have been upgrading their Macs for 5-7 years until they need a new one. On my work PC, we're using Windows XP -- a 9 year old operating system. Like most companies they don't trust Vista and never migrated to it. I just got this new laptop last year, and back then XP was only 8 years old. It may be my funny ways, but I like to be able to upgrade a machine without buying new hardware. Bill Gates came out when Vista was released and said that Microsoft OS's are designed to work on contemporary hardware -- yes, you should buy a new PC. I think PC makers love this. Hence the inertia for a Microsoft world... All I know is that a Dell laptop with Windows has a 2-3 year lifespan. Either it will break or it can't be upgraded to the new version of Windows (but sometimes they don't have a decent OS release for a decade, so you may be able to squeeze out 5 years on that Dell with the same OS before it breaks). I think people confuse the fact that Apple introduces new Macs and new iPods annually with the notion that you must get one. Of course not. What you won't see from Apple is one fairly decent release of an OS per decade, then a bunch of sharts for a few years, and maybe something decent (but unoriginal). I've had an 80GB iPod for 3 years and it has the original battery and it lasts for years. I think some people charge their devices too often without purging the battery, and they get a lot less life out of their battery that way... Oh well...

tonycopp
tonycopp

You can be sure it will be business productive for Apple to have you as one of their cool tools for the Apple annuity program. Your irreplaceable battery /license will expire when you need another dose of Apple cool and what's cooler than that? Resistance is futile, when you are a cube in their tray. So what if you drool? Recycle a book, no one can delete or summarily deny you.