What will the Apple tablet imply for the smart Home?

The Apple rumour mill is reaching a tablet-tastic crescendo.  If even one tenth of the chatter is appropriate then we’re on course for an announcement early in the new year and a possible shipping date in the second quarter of 2010.  So let’s think of for a moment that it’s a reality. What use will it really be and what will it imply for the smart Home?

What is it – Apple have allegedly been working on a tablet for years.  certainly some of the technologies in the iPhone, like multi-touch, are said to have come from development work on the tablet project.  depending on which rumour you believe, the device will have a 10″ or 7″ screen and be similar to a large iPhone.  The iSlate and iGuide names have emerged in the last week with the discovery that the domains are owned by Apple and trademarks on the names have been taken out by a law firm linked to Apple in the past.

While numerous will blindly flock to simply purchase the next new thing from Apple, there are numerous others who don’t see the point in a tablet.  Apple will have to objective the device so as to appeal to as numerous markets as it can to guarantee its success.

Home control apps – because its launch two and a half years ago, the iphone has gradually become the focus of smart home control for numerous companies.  along with the iPod Touch it is heading towards the ubiquitous nature of the iPod, certainly amongst gadget-loving smart home owners.

With over 100,000 apps now available in the iTunes apps Store, and over 2 billion downloads to date, the software choice is unrivalled.  native apps are available in numerous smart home categories like lighting control, whole house audio, safety and security systems and AV.  even the big home automation players with an interest in selling their own expensive hardware touchscreens have released iphone Apps.

There’s already a bewildering range of smart home apps available for the iPhone

Apple are rumoured to have asked a select few developers to create a ‘full screen’ version of their apps for an upcoming demo.  allowing the tablet access to the immense range of applications for the iphone with a few easy tweaks of the code could potentially give the device one of the greatest software choices ever for the launch of a new platform – not least in the area of the smart Home.  In addition Apple are working to improve web apps on the iphone too.  The recent ‘PastryKit’ web framework apparently makes web apps practically indistinguishable from native ones – video demo here.

For all the possibilities the tablet presents, some essential questions remain if it is to be rooted from its iphone sibling. will the tablet allow multi-tasking?  The iphone is limited to running one 3rd party (non-Apple) app at a time.  If the tablet was to be used to control multiple smart home sub-systems from distinct apps this would result in a terrific deal of repeated opening and closing of each application.  One potential way around this would be to have a common web interface to all devices – possibly using something like HomeSeer and xAP / xPL.  Or possibly the larger form element of the tablet will allow for a battery big enough to cope with the power-sapping nature of running multiple concurrent apps?

Is this the new Apple Tablet?

Video player – It strikes us that the tablet would also make an optimal film player either around the house or on the go.  frequent flyers (especially those who get to sit in cattle class like us) will know how challenging it can be to get the room just to open a laptop up, never mind use it. The flat nature and big screen would lend itself well to this role.

We assume the tablet will use flash memory (or an SSD?) and with the little iPod Touch already having a 64GB version there ought to be plenty of space for films on the new device.  However, if the unit is heavily based on the iphone then its likely to be limited to playback of h.264 video.  It remains to be seen if the device would be as closed an ecosystem as the iPhone.  If it is then it would certainly be a new high profile challenge to the hacking community to open it up to run other software.

Browser – The NetBook has become the ‘Sofa Surfer” of choice in the last 18 months and while the diminutive devices are terrific value, the user experience can typically leave a lot to be desired.  A 10 inch high quality device with the intelligent virtual keyboard and the high quality browsing experience from the iphone would be another compelling feature for the tablet.

Reader – Amazon’s Kindle has been called the iPod for books numerous times already.  Apple will no doubt want to quash their early lead in this market.  They are reportedly in talks (offering better terms than Amazon?) with publishers and other content companies who are looking around for a delivery method to their readers.  It seems entirely possible that we may be receiving our daily newspapers and monthly magazines on the Apple device in the future.

On the down side, reading for long periods on a device with a backlight isn’t ideal.  The e-ink employed by recognized eBook readers is much simpler on the eye.  However, their lack of colour, speed and dearth of other features may be enough to convince all but the most ardent of bookworms that the Apple device may be the much more flexible choice.  The Kindle comparison opens up another question – will the Apple device ship with a SIM slot for cellular access?  Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are a given.

Apple’s objective should certainly be to create and command the de facto device for written media delivery and consumption, as they have done for music with the iPod and iTunes.

How a magazine Title may look on the Apple Tablet

Price – One thing we know for certain is that any Apple tablet will be a premium product with a matching price tag.  However, in the high-end world of Crestron and AMX touchscreens, Apple’s prices would certainly appear ‘reasonable’ in comparison.  Take the Pronto TSU9600 remote.  At £950 it may not be a million miles away from the Apple tablet price and assuming devices like the ThinkFlood RedEye will work with the device just as well as with the iPhone, then it will offer similar remote control application plus the myriad of additional functionality.

Make it So – As always for products being cooked up in the white, shiny corridors of Apple, the shroud of mystery remains in place and while the mist seems to be lifting, leaving us with a clearer picture of what the tablet might be, everything you read today remains conjecture until any formal Apple announcement. Whatever the features, with Apple’s track record for success in recent years and the single-minded focus of the CEO of the decade, who’d bet against another substantial winner from Cupertino?


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