So, when I heard that Apple might be releasing something like the iPod Slate (a larger version of the iPod Touch with more hardware accessory features), I got really excited, and started my list. That was before I actually had an iPod Touch. Now that I do, my opinions have changed somewhat based on what the iPod Touch can do for me now, and what it will most likely do for me with the new iPhone 3.0 release, and what it still will not allow me to do without the right hardware/software.
- Presentations: As an educator I make a lot of presentations, and need a lightweight platform that will hook up to a projector easily with only one attachment that I need to carry around, and a way to cycle through the slides easily. I used my PowerBook for this very thing, because it was so small and lightweight. Currently, only a Netbook can offer me the same flexibility, and it's about the right price too. The thing is, I want to keep with my Apple platform if I can. Otherwise I will be switching to Linux on a Netbook, and I'm not too thrilled with clamshell designs. A tablet PC with a mini-DisplayPort and a dongle that will attach to a VGA or DVI cable to a projector would save a lot of time. And having it run iWork would be huge. ^_^
- PDF Reading: I love Stanza, which allows me to read the text of any PDF easily. But it doesn't include the images with those PDF's, which can be rather critical. There are several apps for the iPod Touch and iPhone that will let you read a PDF without any trouble, but with such a small screen I find my self straining my eyes to read the details, or have trouble keeping the blasted thing centered. A larger screen would do wonders (like a 10 inch diagonal display ^_^).
- Writing: I want a platform that will make it easy to write. Whether a blog post, tweet, document, book, or homework posts for students, a well designed platform here would be ideal. The best software I have found for writing books or projects of any size is Scrivener, and something like that on a mobile platform that I can use from anywhere would be ideal.
- Connectivity: If I want to be able to use this anywhere, I want to be able to have a connection anywhere that is decent, both in speed and in price. Currently the AT&T iPhone plan is too rich for my blood, hence the reason why I got an iPod Touch. But I would be quite happy with a product that used a 3G or 4G connection (like WiMax) that was portable and the rates were reasonable. After all, I would prefer to have a network connection over a cell phone, and use my device with VoIP for all phone calls. It's cheaper for me, and cheaper for my provider. Plus, I want to not be tethered to any one provider. Let me take it with me where ever I go to which ever provider offers the best service for the price.
- True VoIP: Currently the iPhone has VoIP apps for proprietary systems that are free, and several that are paid-for apps. It's ideal for the iPod Touch when you have a connection, though you can't always leave it on because of battery issues. For true VoIP to work, it will need to have a connection that is always on, and the VoIP app would need to run in the background while you work on one app or another.
- Battery Life: Because I want to have this device run on a low power mode, but allow apps like a VoIP app or other such apps to work without trouble, the device will need to have some killer battery life. It shouldn't be hard, because most of these apps are not high-power apps.
- File Storage and Transfer: Currently on the iPod Touch and iPhone, if you write a document in Notes or other app, it can't be moved to another location or off the app. There are a few exceptions, but I'm not sure I like those exceptions. I would like to be able to create a document on this device and then move it to another storage location (network, USB storage, even SD card would be fine). That would make working on the device ideal.
- Full Apps: I would like to have the option to either have full apps available, or make it easier to develop full apps for the device. The iPhone 3.0 SDK has gone a long way to that goal, and there is a possibility that a full-fledged app like Scrivenr, iWork, or even SecondLife/WOW would be made available for the device. That would be cool, but not a necessary thing.
- Bluetooth Keyboard: Give me a chance to have a real keyboard tethered to it, and be separate from the device. No cables to worry about, just a clean wireless connection. It would let me develop faster and write better than any touch screen keyboard, though having the touch screen keyboard as a backup would be just fine.
- Podcast On the Go: Let me make a podcast on the go, either video or audio. A built-in version of GarageBand with a video capture program built in would make this a very versatile tool while on the go. Add a video camera to it for iChat video conferencing and video capture would be a huge plus!
- Cloud Computing Ready: This would be sweet if it were possible, and it should be. For the device, you would just need to allow for apps to access the cloud easily, which means network connections would need to be reliable. the iPod Touch does this to a certain extent, but there has been some innovations that would be well served by a tablet format.
- XCode: It would be so sweet to have an XCode SDK available for the device for quick and dirty project development. It probably wouldn't happen, but it would still be a huge bonus!
So that is my new list. A lot of it still exists from the old platform, but many of the old requirements that I had are now satisfied with the iPod Touch. There are several apps that are available for the iPod Touch that work with the needs I see, but not everything is there.
Those of you who are arguing against such a device may point out that I can accomplish just about everything with an existing Netbook or with a full-fledged laptop. That's true, I could, but those machines do far more than I will ever want to do while I'm on the go. I'm not going to develop movies on the thing, I'm not going to be running any complex server apps or anything like that. I just have a very specific list of needs that I would like to have met with a device that can do it, be small enough to fit in a pocket or small bag, and let me work while I'm on the bus or train.
Netbooks can do some of what I have described, but unless it's running Linux I don't trust the operating system or the tools running on it. I want something that will not crash on me while I'm writing, surfing, or recording audio. That leaves Windows out. Yes, I have had problems with Windows XP, and Vista doesn't install on any Netbook that I am aware of (not that I would use it anyway). I don't know about Windows 7's capabilities as it is still in Beta stage, and as such will keep it out of the equation.
Linux can do it quite easily, and it's just as reliable as Mac OS X. The problem with Linux is a personal one: I don't like to spend a lot of time compiling to get things to work. I lose interest in it after a few days of trial and error, fighting with poorly written documentation, and finally giving up and dealing without that one crucial app that I needed. I would put up with it when Windows was my only other option, but not when I can have it on the Mac and have it just work.
But now, it comes to the crucial question: Will the thing actually sell? That depends on two additional questions, does it do what you need, and is the price right?
In answer to the first: I think so, because there are a lot of people who are looking for replacements for their laptops that don't need anything overly powerful. I wouldn't replace a laptop if I needed anything like virtual machines to test development code or compose video through Final Cut Pro or Adobe Producer, but I will for the tasks I need to accomplish above.
You would see something like this take off in Education specifically, and almost saturate that market right off the bat. With the few exceptions in Engineering and whatnot where a full-powered machine would be needed, it could quickly become the del-facto platform for taking notes, writing papers, submitting them online or through a classroom share, all without any paper being distributed. Add a USB port and you can hook up a USB Printer and print it out if needed.
Healthcare would be another ideal location for this device, particularly if a centralized healthcare record network is created. Healthcare providers could walk around with a similar device like a clipboard without having to worry about a clamshell design needing to be sat down before you can use it.
In answer to the second question: It needs to be priced near the Netbook line to be reasonable. I'm placing a reasonable price range between $300 and $600. Anything more, and you would want to pay for a laptop anyway. Previously I put the price tag at around $800.00, but at that price now I would skip it and go for a laptop. Remember, add to that the cost of a wireless carrier and it becomes a pricey proposition. At the $300.00 to $600.00 range, one can get a decent price, and possibly even get a subsidy from carrier X to use their network.
Anyway, that is what I would like to see if it were going to happen. It would completely replace my need for a laptop while traveling, and allow me to do my real powerful and processor-intensive work on my desktop at home, or in a cloud computing environment as the technology begins to mature.