Whatever Apple decides to call its tablet computer that will presumably be announced by this time tomorrow, I’m going to be all ears. As someone who writes, reports on, and manages content for a living, I am all for any invention that invigorates media and provides money-oriented systems by which more work and a healthier industry develop for journalism and reading. Apple has some big questions to answer when they get up on stage, though, this is going to be my personal checklist when I read and watch the recaps from those who are there on the ground:
• What will it do that my iPhone doesn’t? I love my Kindle app, news apps, and Stanza app for the iPhone. What will a bigger, less portable and presumably more fragile piece of hardware do for me beyond putting it all on a bigger screen that I don’t feel a nagging need for in the first place?
• Will its size mean that it is more fragile than an iPhone?
• Is it going to cost $1,000? A considerably higher price tag than whatever the next iPhone is likely to come with makes the above questions more pressing.
• If it costs close to $1,000, how will that expand and add value to the content market? Most Internet users are already unwilling to pay for online content. If the price turns out to be in the $800-$1,000 range, will consumers be willing to pay more to pay more for content? The only way I can see this working out is if the device comes with free subscriptions to a lot of news sources that would charge otherwise.
• I love games, but beyond board games, is the format suited for gameplay? EA and other companies are developing games for the Apple tablet. The iPhone and iPod touch work well because while holding the device with one hand you can use that same thumb and your other hand at the same time. That made that control schemes weren’t much more complicated to figure out than those of the Nintendo DS. The size and shape of this tablet look to be a different story.
• What’s the battery life going to be? A full-color screen is going to need a big power source, and I want something that will last for the length of a typical novel-reading session (at least 2-4 hours) without recharging and still leave me a few 5-10 minutes periods of news reading on top of that before returning to an outlet.
• What will the comics look like? The full color feature may mean the most for the comics industry. I doubt this question will be answered in the next year, but if paper-and-staples go away, what will this device mean for self-publishers, will it force more attractive payment models for writers and artists at established publishing companies, and how difficult will point of entry be to get through for a couple of guys with a new comic to publish?