The Problem with Tablets

There are lots of rumors swirling about an Apple Tablet. It’s to Apple’s credit that people get excited about (and start reviewing) a device they’ve never seen. Maybe Apple is making one, maybe not. I have no idea. But the rumors are swirling more quickly than usual, gaining details as they go. They feel pretty credible.

Still, there’s one problem with all these rumors.

Tablets are awkward. If you want to watch a movie on it, how do you prop it up? How do you hear it? If you want to send email, are you doing that on a flat surface? You wouldn’t hold it up in the air and type with your thumbs. It’s too wide and heavy, and easily droppable. If you want to listen to music on it in your car or at the gym, you can’t easily take it on the go because it’s too big to fit in your pocket or sit in your console or on the dashboard. You’d want to put it into a backpack or briefcase, at which point it’s just another laptop. (To be clear, I’m not saying the previous things won’t be possible on the device, but that they can’t be comfortable or ideal without forethought on the part of the device’s designers.)

So now we know the problem. What’s the solution? Let’s think about what we know about Apple.

First off, we know Apple isn’t the kind of company to leave the aforementioned problems to the consumer. They’ll solve the problem for you before they sell you the product, and oftentimes include the solution within the device. (Or sometimes sell extra accessories.)

Secondly, Apple never makes a device just to get something into a particular form factor or “make a play for a niche.” When they create, they have particular needs and particular uses in mind. If it’s not widely useful, they won’t make it. They don’t want to waste money and time making a device no one wants and no one can take pleasure in using. They’re far more likely to make a device that does one or two things extremely well at the expense of other functionality than they are to make a device that does a hundred or a thousand things in a mediocre, awkward way. In fact, I would say that particular tendency is at the absolute core of Apple’s mentality.

So the big question in my mind is this: what would Apple think people could enjoy doing with a 10-inch touch screen tablet? It’s not a laptop. It’s not an iPod or iPhone. It’s something else. Why does it need to exist?

I have a wild guess. Ready?

My guess is that it’ll compete with the Kindle and launch with an iTunes Book Store. You’ll be able to put all your textbooks for school on it, all your novels, periodicals, blogs, the Bible, comic books, whatever. Then, via a slick UI, they enable the user to highlight certain passages and take notes (audio, video, or text). You’ll be able to search all your books and notes via built-in Spotlight technology. Suddenly it’s got the souped-up power of a computer with the easy utility of a well-loved paperback. They could also augment it socially by making it an always-online device which you can use to collaborate with friends and have discussions about anything you’re reading.

Perhaps in the future, publishers of original text would be able to submit and sell their writing in the iTunes Store in the same way iPhone application developers do today. Suddenly bloggers and other writers can make a buck on their craft without having to cling to a huge parent organization. If you’re a good writer, you can do that for a living and you’ve got a gigantic potential audience waiting to pay a few cents here and there for your creations.

In a nutshell, the device will be “Reading Redux.” It has uses in business, education, and in the home. We all read all day. We’re all stuck in paper. That’s gotta change.

Reading Redux is compelling. A device with current functionality shoehorned into a different form factor is not compelling to you and me, and it isn’t compelling to Apple either. That’s not what we’ll see.

Saving Money on Amazon with CamelCamelCamel

Occasionally, I’ll see a price on Amazon and wonder whether it’s really a fair price or not. Did Amazon recently hike it up? What about the 3rd-party vendor prices for new and used versions of that product? It’s hard to tell.

I found a site today called CamelCamelCamel that does exactly that, and it really impresses me. For those of you who are savvy to JavaScript bookmarklets, you’ll know what to do with this little puppy I hacked together tonight: View Amazon Price History. If you’re not familiar with bookmarklets, don’t click that link yet. Just add it to your bookmarks and I’ll show you how to use it in a minute.

The idea behind CamelCamelCamel (whose obvious logo I love like a guilty pleasure) is fairly simple. If you wonder whether the Amazon price or the 3rd-party vendor price of any product on Amazon’s site is a little fishy, you can look at the item’s price over time, in a handy graph, and find out whether now is a good time to make your purchase. You can even subscribe to an RSS feed and watch the price change, or get an email alert when the price drops below a certain level. Useful! They also have lists of popular products and products with the biggest price drops in the last few days.

OK, let’s try it! If you’ve saved the View Amazon Price History link as a bookmark, you’re ready to go.

Let’s say you’re shopping for a good Digital SLR camera and you come across the Canon Digital Rebel XSi. Once you’re on that page (or any product page) you can click the bookmarklet you’ve just saved and you’ll be automatically transported to the corresponding page on CamelCamelCamel. The graphs will tell you that Amazon’s price is just below average right now, but it was a lot lower in early April. (I found it surprising that Amazon changes its price as often and as much as it does, both up and down, on brand-new products.) The 3rd-party new cameras are also below average, and certainly below the recent highest price. The used version, however, is near the peak of the highest price, so if you’re buying used, it’s probably best to wait a week or two and save $30 or more.

It’s a great little web application with a solid business model (kickbacks from purchases you make via their links). I just couldn’t help but share. Enjoy!

(Footnote: I know that CamelCamelCamel is supposed to be spelled with all lowercase letters, but how could I resist using camel case?)