Prediction: The Apple Tablet is Going to Flop Worse Than the Newton

The more I hear about the rumored Apple tablet coming later today, the more I’m convinced this isn’t going to work. The love child of an iPod Touch and a Kindle might be pretty but it isn’t world changing in the way the iPhone and the Mac were. More to the point, it won’t save the media industry from their own outdated business models. Newspaper publishers and magazine publishers and book publishers are so desperate for some hope of salvation that they’ll swim to anyone who promises to throw them a life preserver, not noticing that the life preserver is made out of lead. Remember, we’re talking about people who think the problem with HTML is that it isn’t more like PDF. The surest sign that a technology will fail is when senior citizen C-level execs are gaga over it.

I could be totally wrong about this, as could everyone else who’s been posting rumors about what the Apple tablet is actually going to be and actually going to do. It could well be that the use case for the tablet is something we haven’t even imagined yet, and if so all bets are off. However, if the fundamental raison d’être for the tablet is simply to be a nice e-book/magazine/newspaper reader with network connectivity and a built-in iTunes content store, it’s DOA. Microsoft made this mistake with Blackbird, MSN, and Silverlight. AOL, Prodigy, Genie, and Compuserve all made this mistake; and it killed three of them, and is slowly killing the last. Apple made this mistake before itself with eWorld. (Remember that?)

The bottom line is that the Web wins. The Web is the content delivery platform. Paid or free, what people want is an open two-way platform based on networked hypertext. Furthermore, that platform should be as open as possible. The more DRM is imposed, the less people will use it. Even a simple registration form is enough to drive more than half of potential readers away. If the content for the iPad isn’t on the Web — if it’s in some nonstandard, closed, non-editable format like PDF that’s served only from Apple’s servers or the servers of big media over some proprietary protocol — the tablet will fail. If the content looks good on an iPad but doesn’t look good in Firefox on Linux, or Chrome on Windows, or in Internet Explorer with JavaScript turned off, the tablet will fail. If you can read an article, but you can’t save it, or e-mail it, or copy and paste from it, the tablet will fail.

Sorry Big Media. This has been tried before and failed before, many, many times. Sprinkling magic Apple pixie dust over a bad business model won’t make it profitable. Tim Berners-Lee and Marc Andreesen gave you the most important technological development in publishing since Gutenberg, and you’ve spent 20 years proving you have no clue whatsoever how to use it while teenagers blogging from their parents’ basements beat you up and took your lunch money. A shiny new toy from Apple won’t save you from your own incompetence.

Of course, the rumors could be totally false. Use as an ePaper reader could just be one thing the tablet does, and the one that’s gotten the most ink for the same reason that half the new sitcoms in any given year are set in a TV or radio station. Media folks just love to write about themselves. The Apple tablet could have uses and abilities well beyond some sort of content distribution platform that isn’t the Web. Steve Jobs is way smarter than all the heads of the media empires put together. The Apple tablet could be an open development and distribution platform for Web content, games, portable applications, and more. It could finally give us hand writing recognition that works. It could finally give us voice-recognition that works. It could have a Cablecard slot and a DRM-free DVR. It could give us satellite Internet connectivity from anywhere on the planet and a pony; and if it does, I want one. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Apple manages to completely reinvent how we interact with a general purpose computer. After all, they’ve done it before. But if all the tablet offers is a slightly less locked down version of the Kindle with a color screen and a better user interface, Apple shouldn’t have bothered.

10 Responses to “Prediction: The Apple Tablet is Going to Flop Worse Than the Newton”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    Me, I hope he just announced Mac OS XI, just to make allayall look stoopit.

  2. Robert Young Says:

    Note that Apple’s winners haven’t been First-to-Market, but snazzier to market. OTOH, and IIRC, the content does come from Apple, in its format. Could go either way. And OAH, html/http are stretched way beyond their design. There does need to be a replacement. May be Apple has figured one out. All layers beneath http don’t care what’s above them, so it can be done.

  3. Robert Young Says:

    Just saw the photo of Steve and his iPad. Gad, does it look stupid. I hold ARM stock, and legend is Apple is using ARM designs in the iPad, but still…

  4. Tsu Dho Nihm Says:

    It looks like a giant iPod Touch. With optional 3G. I’m not really sure how useful that is.

  5. Lorenzo Gatti Says:

    A giant iPhone, with even less “phone” and a similar closed world of Apple content. An “App Store”? A SDK? How can it be taken seriously?

    Voice recognition is pointless, this thing is meant to be used in public places.

    Handwriting recognition is more difficult and less reliable than a touchscreen keyboard emulation; the larger the touchscreen, the better the keyboard.

    Development, and serious usage, without a keyboard isn’t going to happen; at the same price one can buy a slightly heavier real laptop.

  6. HabaneroGuy Says:

    Somewhat anecdotal, but I found the title of this post (which I just noticed today, long after the announcement) most interesting. At the peak of the media saturation, when people who don’t give a rats ass about tech can’t help but notice for a moment, my wife makes some remark about “that thing Dan used to have years ago” after one segment having something to do with handwriting recognition. That’s right – the iPad reminded someone who is largely indifferent to technology (at best) about the Newton, long after even the cobwebs in peoples memories have turned to dust. Hell, even I haven’t thought about the Newton in nearly a decade. That can’t be a good sign.

  7. Sidney Crowe Says:

    Excellent blog entry.

    What do you think of the Apple Tablet?

    Man was I let down this thing could have been epic instead Jobs settled for a cheap device.


  8. Jimbo Says:

    I agree that the iPad will be a flop. Every time I see the iPod, I get a very depressed feeling in my heart, knowing that if IBM had not succumbed to an offer from Bill Gates, most people today would be speaking to their computers and wouldn’t need to point to pictures on a screen. IBM developed a software that I used years ago with OS/2 to give commands verbally to my computer, but never really marketed it. After a short training period, the voice program worked great! It was available in English, German, French and Italian as far as I remember. In exchange for IBM promising not to try selling their software which allowed users to speak to their computers, Bill Gates gave IBM lots of referrals and access to otherwise secret Microsoft information about NT. This enabled IBM to earn a fortune providing NT support to customers around the globe, but prevented users the chance to say “Open Internet Explorer.” and then to utter a URL to view that internet page in their browser. Oh well, if folks these days think pointing to icons is easier than giving commands verbally to their computer then so be it, but I don’t think it’ll be big technology breakthrough.

  9. Joe Says:

    Well, it’s a month later and the pre-orders are coming in at ~15,000 per hour. It’s still too early to get a complete read, but the iPad is selling well in its first 24 hours.

  10. iPad Accessories Says:

    I can’t hold back until the particular apple ipad is out with friends in britain, i’ve come across several reviews online coming from Us all clients also it seems awesome. I have seen several incredible components ^ nearby too! ipad PWNS!

Leave a Reply