VISION AFORETHOUGHT

Common sense analysis of this, that and the other

If Apple don’t launch a tablet equal or better than this…

with 9 comments

macpad_alex_b_@oflife

Click to enlarge

News

  • August 26 2009: Until today, in order not to be influenced by other mockups, I had not used Google to research the use of the name ‘MacPad’. It seems someone did use it and has their idea posted on Flickr. I’ll leave mine as MacPad too though for now. I wonder if any company has ever had their future products pre-empted as much as Apple has? And how many have used a brand name concocted in a similar manner to this? The intellectual property ramifications are mind boggling, not to mention the effect on internal decision making and staff morale within companies such as Apple who garner so much external forethought.
  • August 26 2009: Have modified the design slightly based on feedback and further thinking. Power button has been moved to the middle rear, although it could be positioned on an edge too.

Background

  • When it comes to tablet ‘computing’, a well conceived form factor, pragmatic use of bleeding edge technology (think iPhone/iPod Touch) and a fluid human interface will be the most important non AI based paradigm shift since the first keyboard equipped computers of the 1950s. An intuitive electronic pad will free up our creative minds for the first time since the advent of pen and paper, something made extremely frustrating with our current clunky machinery. Therefore, whoever creates the first mass market device must get it right else the reputation of the product category will be damaged, as happened with the Newton before Palm launched the Palm Pilot and restored the viability of the PDA.
  • I was in two minds whether to publish this due to the conflict of interests with my employer, the loss of some potential intellectual property and a pig headed concern that my own fantasy device may upstage the real thing. (Hopefully not!) However, I have considerable respect for some of what Apple do, and like many, believe that if anyone can and should get the tablet concept right, it will be them. (I also believe Palm and a restored Psion could pull this off too given the resources, but it may be too late, unless their value proposition is practical, affordable, and most importantly, extensible. Because smart consumers invest in a companies long term vision, not just the here and now.)
  • The ideas presented here represent a mix of my own ideas and wishes, current Apple technology – and public domain industry rumor. The latter mainly associated with the screen size, that to date, is about the only snippet of believable gossip out there. All said, I have left out some ideas and detail, for obvious reasons.
  • I first began drawing digital media pads in the early 1990s. Some of my ideas go back almost 17 years, except for the MagSafe – a fantastic Apple innovation. The first public outing of the media pad concept was in the ground breaking 1960s film, 2001 A Space Odyssey. Over 15 years ago I created a mockup of a similar potential Apple device and called it the PowerPad. I may upload it in the future sometime. (Along with many other drawings.)
  • Due to time constraints, I have not had time to perfect the above drawing. There is some inconsistency between the size of the dock base in the main drawing and the three smaller orientation views. Not to mention the background around the Apple logo still shows a (subtle) square mask where it was composited into the rear elevation.

Name

  • MacPad

A new product category, a new name? Or a return to Newton? Or even iBook?

This quote from Apple is interesting: ‘Tim Cook, its chief operating officer, said: “When I look at what is being sold in the netbook space, I see cramped keyboards, terrible software and junky hardware. And not something we would put the Mac brand on.” Note reference to the ‘Mac’ brand. While this could be a misquote or random remark (he may have meant to say ‘Apple’ brand), if the term ‘Mac’ is to be incorporated into Apple’s tablet device, this indicates a focus on OS X over iPhone OS and a possible use of the word MacBook, such as MacBook Touch or other permutation. Maybe they are working on a transportable with a removable swivel/flip out keyboard?

OS & storage

  • Next generation of iPhone OS with full OS X Snow Leopard compatibility with the exception of advanced processor intensive graphics suited to desktop (Mac Pro) applications.
  • 128GB SSD drive (upgradable)
  • Mid performance graphics chips for decent game playing and ‘being creative on the sofa’ CAD, audio visual and graphic design work
  • See ‘Connectivity’, below for MacPad I/O

Screen

  • Based on a hybrid of sunlight readable eInk / ePaper and video rate LCD/OLED or other video rate display technology. There are companies working on this and Apple have a good record of getting their hands on bleeding edge developments first. If Apple do launch a MacPad whose primary purpose is the consumption of eBooks, it will be vital they use a display technology that prevents eye strain. Anyone who has tried reading a lengthy text on an iPhone or iPod Touch (or any other none eInk pocket devices) will understand how uncomfortable this is.
  • 1280 x 800 300DPI minimum resolution to reduce the need to scroll around when viewing content or working on creative material. (Assuming 10″ diagonal.) I find zooming in and out of content a time consuming nuisance. We don’t zoom when reading (printed) books, newspapers or magazines, so we should not need to zoom with our gadgets.
  • Hybrid resistive and capacitive technology so the MacPad can be used with a stylus.  Professionals and students will be able to take freehand notes, while artists and other creatives can sketch intuitively, finally freeing up the remaining side of their minds. If the MacPad is limited to consuming media only, then it will be a sore disappointment.
  • There will be no stylus holder. This will allow people to choose their own pointing / sketching tool. It is likely 3rd parties will produce nice (real) book like covers for MacPad that will include a space for at least one pointing tool.

The MacPad dock – grab and go!

The key value proposition and what will make or break the convenience of being able to dispense with as many cables as possible and get on with being productive.

  • Wireless charging and syncing dock that gives the appearance of the first generation LCD iMac, with the difference being you can simply lift the MacPad off the docking plate and be on your way. (Note that while my dock looks somewhat clunky, in reality, Apple will no doubt engineer something more succinct.)
  • The docking plate is circular to ensure the MacPad can be rotated through any angle. (If the landscape and portrait positions where to be locked into place using guides or a square docking plate, then it will be impossible to slightly rotate the MacPad to compensate for an uneven surface.)
  • The dock allows the MacPad to act as an ‘active’ digital picture frame when in screen saver mode. All manner of ‘ambient’ information could be displayed, including photos, live video, RSS feeds, Tweets etc.

Imaging

  • On the front, a standard webcam, with one difference, when the MacPad is in portrait orientation, the camera will be to one side, so image processing software may need to compensate. (Only a use case scenario will be able to confirm this concern.)
  • A decent 5MP or better auto focus camera and Xenon flash on the rear, creating a digicam with the world’s largest ‘viewfinder’. One would look a bit silly taking pictures with it, but the large screen would be ideal for touch to focus like features and composing a difficult scene. It would also eliminate the need to carry a separate camera and then have to upload images to the MacPad each time. Why not take photos (or shoot video) and edit the content right away?
  • If the camera had a decent macro backed up with powerful image processing software, it could also suffice as a way to scan documents and photos. (AT&T and Apple have filed patents on actual displays that can see, so using a camera external to the screen may be redundant, although the inability to put your finger over a lens may cause privacy worries. Google: 1984 Viewscreen.)

Connectivity

For aesthetic and practical reasons, all ports will be located along what will be the base of the MacPad when it is in portrait orientation.

  • ExpressCard slot to allow the latest wireless technology (HSDPA/WiMax/4G etc) to be installed locally to suit the distribution territory of the MacPad. IE, a WiMax module would be suited to some American University campuses until becoming more widespread. Is WiMax the same as 4G? Ah, it all depends on who you ask!
  • WiFi
  • Bluetooth
  • Ethernet port
  • 2 x USB ports along the base of the MacPad when in portrait orientation (These will be replicated on the dock base, along with a 3rd USB port.)
  • Firewire 800 port
  • 1080P (1920 x 1080) resolution Mini DisplayPort video out, so the MacPad can act as ones only ‘computer’ by connecting it to an external large screen (>20″) display. Rumor has it the Apple MacPad will act as an input device for their other Macs, so, like the 2G iPhone, one may still require two mainstream Apple products, in particular for power applications. See below for comment on two different tablet devices being prepared by Apple.
  • Stereo audio in and out (The MacPad will make a fantastic audio visual editing tool when on the road, although I am not sure MacPad V1 will posses the power to handle HD video editing)
  • Stereo microphones either side of the webcam or rear camera
  • Twin headphone socket (one on each bottom edge of the MacPad)
  • SD card slot (only if the MacPad is devoid of an auto focus camera)

Operational controls

With smart guestures able to perform most tasks when the MacPad is awake (or even snoozing?), mechanical controls will only be required for a limited number of features. And let us hope that Apple steer clear of touch buttons, they really are useless in practice – unless backed up with effective haptic feedback.

  • Volume & mute
  • Battery check (on one edge?)
  • Power/reset botton. Should require quite a lot of force in order to prevent accidental activation while in the hand, or mount it on the ‘spine’ of the MacPad.
  • Mechanical shutter release for the auto focus camera
  • Manual screen orientation rotation control, so you do not have to rely on those over sensitive internal sensors that anyone who owns a smart phone with know can be a nuisance!
  • Display On/Off to conserve power during audio playback (This is not a high priority feature as it could be achieved through software.)
  • Sleep LED On/Off to finally be rid of the (human) sleep disturbing pulsating LEDs common on Apple laptops and other gadgets. (Pulsating sleep LEDs do light up a bedroom!)
  • DPad for those who hate touch screen gaming controls. Thing is, where to put it. A corner? That would spoil the aesthetic. I don’t think this is going to happen.

Misc

  • Almost as thin as a Nokia E71 smart phone, and ultra light weight. (With the MacPad being designed for long term hand held use, a fatpad will induce fatigue.)
  • The MacBook name (or Apple logo?) will be opaque and located in two positions to allow for the portrait and landscape orientations. The motion sensor will ensure only one MacPad word illuminates at any one time. Note that Sony did something similar with one of their rather swanky digital photo frames.
  • Long life battery similar to the latest MacBook Pro machines. It would be really fantastic if Apple could develop a solar charger for all of their mobile products.
  • Pop out stand for use when away from the dock. (Not shown.) This will need to be cleverly designed like those on the rear of some digital picture frames so the MacPad can be positioned in portrait or landscape orientation using the same stand.

Comments

  • MacPad will mark the beginning of the end of the low to mid range laptop. And about time, because creative brain liberation is long overdue!
  • As some have suggested, chances are there will be two tablet devices, one designed as a content reading/game playing device (a large iPod Touch/eBook), while the other even larger tablet (like the MacPad) will replicate the functionality of the smaller device as well as offering power user functionality – some of which I have hoped for above.
  • By its nature, a tablet form factor device is going to be in contact with bare skin and/or ones lap area for a lengthy period of time, therefore no area of the MacPad should get hot, an issue that probably held it up, along with sourcing a decent display technology.  “Oh, and one last cool thing.”

*Keyboards use both sides of the brain, restricting the creative process.

…then someone will! 😉

alexb_macbook_macpad_aug26_2009

Mr. Blurry using his MacBook white to make a MacPad black. Sadly, for all its wonders, the otherwise still impressive Sony Ericsson K800i cameraphone does not allow the flash to be forced ON. A Panasonic TZ7 or LX3 may tempt until a flash equipped iYouKnowWhat is introduced by you know who…

Apple and the Apple logo are registered trademarks of Apple, Inc.
MagSafe is a trademark of Apple, Inc.

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Written by Oflife

August 23, 2009 at 7:18 pm

9 Responses

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  1. Wow. I want one. Now. ! 🙂

    envious

    August 25, 2009 at 5:37 am

  2. Don’t forget an Ethernet port! I know you love all things wireless, but I still can’t get by without my Ethernet for three reasons:

    1) Unreliable wifi at work

    2) wifi at home doesn’t reach everywhere, as my walls are RADIATION-PROOF, and while wifi APs cost tens of pounds, a couple of pounds worth of cable can be run to any room in the house

    3) Meddling with networks, I often need to be able to plug into lots of different overlapping LANs; this is easy to do with a cable.

    Alaric Snell-Pym

    August 25, 2009 at 10:02 am

    • Hello! True. I didn’t mention the high speed physical interfaces for some reason. Am in two minds whether some of the I/O should be built into the dock only. Have added them to the Connectivity section anyway, along with a microUSB port for charging the MacPad when away from the standard dock being that microUSB has been chosen by most mobile phone manufacturers as a standard charging system. Be interesting to see what Apple do in view of the fact the MacPad will probably draw too much power to be charged using microUSB.

      Alex B

      August 25, 2009 at 10:29 am

  3. CrunchPad. Next?

    Grunties

    August 25, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    • From what I understand, the CrunchPad is in fact, conceptually, ahead of the curve, being an advanced web client, with a focus on the web centric OS and the sort of wonders offered by HTML 5. An ideal Google pad! And if the price is right (and the screen is daylight readable), it could be huge. As hinted at in my posting, I have been waiting for such a device for a lifetime, and always been keen to produce one myself if no one else pulls it off. It is great that Michael at TechCrunch went out and did it! Congrats to his team.

      Alex B

      August 25, 2009 at 1:57 pm

  4. Interesting speculation on design. If you admire (as I do) the Apple design paradigm, you might like this article:

    http://practicalcyclist.blogspot.com/2009/06/apple-and-bikes.html

    Robert Anderson

    August 27, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    • Hi Robert. Many thanks! Looks like an interesting article, will give it a full read soon. Sometimes I wonder if thanks to the failure of others to consider design, whether we may end up in a world with a large proportion of products designed (and even produced) by a select few corporations! Note that during this economic crisis, it is companies that produce quality products who are booming, from Apple, Waitrose (upmarket quality UK supermarket), Audi, RIM (fastest growing company in the world currently!) etc. There’s something dystopian (utopian?) about that though. 😛
      Re the ‘MacPad’, I am wondering if Apple are in fact going to introduce something so radical, it will be beyond any our our wildest speculations. Even today, the 2G iPhone is light years ahead of the competition in stability, usability and desirability. 😉

      Alex B

      August 27, 2009 at 3:00 pm

  5. […] critique the iPad, rather than say what I think it should be like. All said, I did provide my own drawing of what I hoped Apple would create in an August 2009 […]

  6. I think this blog post is very interesting, yet also hilarious. I’m typing this response on an iPad 2. So I think you’re predictions were good, though too Mac centric, as the iPad runs iOS. All of the ports on your tablet device are unnecessary, as Apple has released attachments via the dock connector, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they added Thunderbolt high speed IO in the future. ExpressCard for WiMax and 3G cards is a really stupid idea though, since there are 3G-equipped iPads (like mine) AND there are now mobile hotspot devices such as the MiFi that can give you that 4G connection via wifi.

    Steve

    April 1, 2011 at 3:10 am


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