Apple’s secretive approach is more like poker or bridge, where the others are left guessing. But concepts of chess (where the pieces are visible), can also be applied. We can anticipate natural advances to their core technologies of both the iPhone and the Mac, since a tablet- it better be so on 27th Jan- is in between.

Gradual positonal advances and tactical game changing experiments are imminent! Lets see what kind of chess Apple needs to play…

Apple’s Strategic Anchors- iPhone and Macs
The Mac and the iPhone are well placed as revenue earners and technically solid. 10 years ago Apple innovated to survive. Today it can innovate to unleash something experimental. (Tactics flow from strong positions!). It took many sharp steps for Apple to get here. But now it is time to overhaul some technologies, and shift paradigms…

So lets see which concepts Apple can address, some of which were unfulfilled dreams for Apple and for the industry-

1. Publishing and ebooks
Fluid Positional Play- advance core technologies from what they already are.
This is obviously what everyone is eagerly waiting for. eBooks already look nice- with page flips and annotations on the iPhone. But a tablet will make it look and feel like a book. Apple can, and this is a natural next step. Fluid Positional Play, considering core-quartz FX/transitions already in the OS X.

Scrolling and book dimensions are the major issues when it does not fit the tablet form factor. See Times RSS Reader for a cool newspaper like view for feeds on Mac OS X. But one can expect page tilting (to reduce scrolling) and subtle brightness changes with an accelerometer for enhanced feel.

2. Personalized 3D GUI
Tactical mobility on an open file! The competition is barely just catching up with Expose. 3D is far away.

Remember how an Apple Patent 08/052,865 was supposed to revolutionize a GUI with 3D icons in 1995. Unfulfilled!

Magic Cap tried to simulate a room with real objects (it was brilliant then in 1995), and even today there are 3rd party desktops which swivel and skew to give you a 3D look. But real 3D needs to be touched, not explored with modifier keys.

The road is clear, with multi-touch moving on steroids, and the widgets/icons are begging to be felt! The technical skills of rendering 3D with todays processing power and touch gestures makes this an ‘open file’ with both rooks aligned on it. Apple can then use 3D output in various fields- forcing tactics- to just boost almost all types of display, interaction and report generation.

Fast user switching of Mac OS X accounts already flips desktops as rotating cubes. This could well be the way Spaces works too.

For a feel of navigating space with interactivity try iPhone app Headspace Lite (like Apple’s Hot Sauce Browser in 90s). Or try BeeDocs Timeline (OS X) to get an idea of how a simple timeline can knock you over by 3D skews.

3. Virtual Reality-Shopping
in-app purchases was Apple’s Postional Shot!

Shopping online failed in the 90s because of cumbersome checkout processes and lack of realistic feel of products. The former, has already been solved with an app store and now in-app purchases makes every store or bookshelf- dynamic. iVerse Comics (iPhone app) update a bookshelf by push notifications already.

If the 3D enhancements and touch gestures as indicated earlier, are done, this will pave the way for virtual shopping (what the heck cover flow alone might do it). Again all that is needed is a tablet to deliver goods and content- in a form factor that makes sense. Charging for the delivery is what an in-app purchase is all about. A silent chess shot with definite purpose.

4. OpenDoc, again?
some preparatory moves can be seen… contextual services!

In the 90s when Apple was looking for the next big OS with multi tasking and all that, they worked on OpenDoc- a radical new way to work. There would be no monolithic applications! Just tools which would select themselves, based the ‘part’ you worked in. So every document would be like a layout program with many different parts- images, spreadsheets, text etc. The user could also install tools such as spell checkers from one vendor and say a formatting feature from another… too ambitious for the 90s…

But even though applications will not go away, this was what the internet needed then- as each brilliant programmer and designer could focus on their own niche skills- and the user would stitch the apt tools together. Photoshop plugins are a good example of how every developer does not need to re-invent the core editing program.

But if you see the Mac OS today, you can see widgets/HUDs hovering all over, small drag drop utilities which just do a simple but relevant task well – Collage tools (Posterino), Image sizing (ImageWell). You also have Outliner and Notepad files as a package– which can embed other files of any kind (How about Circus Ponies Notebook on a Tablet?). iWork 09 spreadsheets are already smaller purposeful sections instead of an ugly giant grid.

Most importantly, the services menu is now context sensitive in OS X Snow Leopard. So spell checkers, text expanders and text to speech type services which are universal will perhaps be enhancing the ‘text parts’ in a document, without switching apps. TapIt4Me and Speak it (iPhone apps) are waiting to offer their services to every text snippet – anywhere.

Even if a super-document centric paradigm is not adopted, if each document can host any media/data type and active widgets (web 2.0 style but as local apps), and they can be edited or run in their own ‘part’ – a enhanced document model will be the new big thing.
You will not have to make a presentation- that will be the way you work!

Something tells me that Apple may shock everyone here with a game changing document model… may be not… but for sure hybrid docs which absorb all types of data are a natural progression, sooner or later. (can I please scribble and annotate inside any document?, not just PDFs in Preview or PDFpen).

5. Multimedia for reference/education
forget chess- this just needs a tablet and docking options… (and Hypercard, anyone?)

CD-ROMs were supposed to replace text books? didn’t… they were slow in the 90s, needed a clunky computer to load one. Most importantly, creating a multimedia demo, required fiddl
ing in timelines or lots of programming…

Now with solid state memory and rich media tools, this looks solved. In fact all that is needed is a tablet- the iPhone has some cool AV annotation tools (SonicPics), Diaries/Journals with rich media (Organizer), and with a spotlight like search and tagging mechanism- reference work will be multimedia centric. For a kiosk like presentations- just take a look at how much can be accomplished by just one – magic move in Keynote 09!

6. Network Computing!
Deep positional play- with many silent steps over a few years…

This was yesterday’s promise of Java and Netscape. But it is possible only today with Amazon S3, Dropbox and other clouds, that we can assume to save and open all data from a server. Then any Tablet will be ‘my’ tablet- as the data ain’t in it. But if this will happen, it will happen with small but well planned steps-deep positional play- hosting more apps online, then backing up and synching data online… eventually saving data online.. until we will have an empty tablet- Tabula Rasa! …an iSlate! The Tablet might just silently or incidentally fulfill the network-is-the-computer mantra

7. Gaming and Entertainment
Tactics to get every kid and adult on to the OS X ecology

My awareness about Computer Games is unfortunately not developed beyond chess. I do love sports but am not a Video game buff. But with touch gestures and even basic 3D, there will be scope for a different type of gaming- on the tablet and where the tablet is just an input console for another gaming gadget. (or if we could dock the tablet into a larger screen- see my wishlist).

Also, the entertainment apps invite you to touch, pinch and shake (Wooble iBoobs)…I cannot say how well it works, as I have many other things to buy, but I guess a larger form factor will help… umm this is more about Apple’s chess positions not kamasutra.. though some excel in both (@pogonina, a Chess GM).

8. Augmented Reality (AR)
in another game of chess? with Steve you never can tell though- camera, GPS, action…


So what impact will a successful tablet have, assuming it becomes a must-have gizmo like the iPhone? If Apple does pull of half of what is possible, based on their Positional Advantage, of having a priority on key technologies of modern times – as in the iPhone and OS X – it could get every single tablet buyer to be a Mac user of sorts. Even now, every iPhone user is using a mobile version of OS X, but not really getting any work done- in the desktop sense. So an avid iPhone user is not Mac user, as such.

But the same may not be true for a tablet, which in all likelihood will not just be a content consumption device. If you create or do work on an iSlate – or whatever it is called- you are then close to being a Mac user as well.

In fact, the Mac vs PC wars may be about to end… as the iSlate will convert both of them, gradually… So Apple’s positional path will then be- Mac technologies came to iPhone; both iPhone & Mac+more touch/3D come to an iSlate (now); iSlate technologies back to the Mac (like iPhone touch gestures enhanced Mac trackpads)…

The only major issue, is still about doodling and scribbling, which touch interfaces are weak, since fingertips are not precise and obstruct vision. Either an additional stylus or a virtual one, will surely be needed. Many iPhone apps try to address it in many ways, but Apple needs to nail this.

Let’s see- 27th Jan ain’t far away… 2010 may not just be 2010!

Time to catch up some sleep.

Mumbai, India
24 Jan 2010