Wild Tablet Speculation!

It is T-day – January 27, 2010. In just over four hours, Apple CEO Steve Jobs will walk onto a stage in San Francisco and tell us all … something.

No one knows exactly what it will be, or won’t be, or even could be – but that hasn’t stopped anyone from trying to speculate on it. (Here, search “apple tablet” on Google, even limiting it to news sources you get more than 22,000 hits. The only thing that will get more speculation is the second coming of Michael Jackson …)

But since everyone else has chimed in, I will too. Because I love a mob. Really, I do.

The proposed tech specs seem to have congealed around a 10 inch screen, no keyboard, WiFi and wireless (probably 3G, maybe 4G, maybe on AT&T, maybe on Verizon, maybe on both).

Here’s my hope … it can’t be a $1,000 device. It has to be cheaper to really succeed. (See? I’m bad at speculating, because you know it’s going to be $1,000 and sell like crazy … but I look at the results my colleagues got on a Kindle research project where the $500 price point freaked people out and think it has to be lower, even though the Apple device will do way more.) (If it exists.)

If it can get down under $500, even without the wireless side, it’s a game changer. Imagine some of the following …

  • With WiFi readily available, iTunes-like subscriptions to news. You fire it up and here comes today’s New York Times, Wall Street Journal and anything else you’d like. Easily read, portable. Would you pay for that? I would. More than a Kindle subscription? Yes, because I can get the interactive graphics, multimedia content, high resolution photos … everything I can get at my desk, I can get at the coffee shop or kitchen table.
  • Text books. Some reports have talked about Jobs’ commitment to education, here’s where it can be huge. Imagine being able to highlight text in your school books, click on them and write a note. Or instantly send a question to your professor. Or rely on the “wisdom of the crowds” and have a note pop up in an online community, filtered by your class, college or major … Or do a web search on an unfamiliar term. Or be able to watch an animation of how the human heart works. Or be able to zoom in on a photo or graphic so you can explore more detail.
  • Medical notes. The only place tablet-like computing has really worked is in the medical field. My mother has been in and out of hospitals the last few years and I’ve watched doctors scrawl notes and been afraid, very afraid, that someone would misread them. I’ve also seen that at some hospitals, like Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston, that they have a computer in every intensive care unit room. Full patient records – medications, procedures, schedules, all the stats from all the monitors. Everything available with a couple of keystrokes. Imagine the nurses walking into a room and being able to pull up every piece of your medical history, to be able to do a quick search for drug complications … maybe even show you video or photos from a procedure you just went through or are scheduled for. (How many times have you been handed some printouts off the web about whatever it is that may or may not be ailing you? Any comfort in seeing your doctor on Google?)

And that’s just scratching the surface.

I think, if it exists, it’ll revolutionize three big areas first – journalism, education and medicine. So my boss knows about the announcement and I’ve already told him to prepare for me in his office asking for funds to get one in-house. Because, at the intersection of journalism and education is us – journalism educators.

The technical specs don’t really matter, it’s the possibilities of the platform that get me excited. How much better can I teach with this sort of tool? How much better can we deliver stories with this sort of tool?

Of course, it’s also possible there will be … nothing. That everyone has this wrong, that we’ll get new iPods and processor bumps in laptops and maybe the Beatles on iTunes.

Which would be okay, I guess. Sergeant Pepper can sing to all of us in the Lonely Hearts Club Band …

Mark E. Johnson

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