Crystal Ball: Apple’s $599 “iPad Touch” Netbook (with pictures)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words so how better to illustrate what I think an Apple “netbook” might look like than to design what I’d build if I were them. I’ve affectionately called it the “Apple iPad Touch” – not because it’s a particularly clever name but because it’s close to “iPod” and thus avoids having to create a new “iNote”, “iNet” or similar logo. There’s been renewed discussion (e.g. here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here) about such a device of late thanks to rumours that Chinese manufacturers Wintek and Quanta will make the screens and manufacture the devices respectively, and confirmation by Dow Jones Newswires via “two people close to the situation“.

The device would be bigger than an iPhone but smaller than a MacBook (actually it would be quite similar to the lid/screen of a MacBook on its own) and would be both light and durable. It may come with a protective case to protect its large, glass screen but these would definitely be available optionally and/or from third parties. It would stick with the aluminium/black glass theme, though given the appearance of the high density plastic backing for the iPhone 3G the temptation would be to make multi-coloured and/or special editions available, going back to the iBook clamshell roots.

The interface would be a breeze to use and the multitouch functions would be even more spectacular than when they first appeard on the iPhone. Thanks to advancements in the upcoming Safari 4, navigating to your faviourite sites would be as simple as clicking on a thumbnail in the new coverflow style speed dialer and the browsing experience will be similar to, but thanks to the extra power and pixels, much better than that of the iPhone. Multimedia (including video) will also be a pleasure to watch on its large high definition screen (but you’ll have to keep an eye on the battery) and finding what you want will be trivial thanks to CoverFlow:

Here’s the suggested specs:

  • ARM processor (1Ghz+)
  • 256-512Mb RAM
  • 32-64 Gb flash drive (ala iPhone, primarily for audio & video media)
  • iPhone-style stripped back Mac OS X operating system
  • 9-10″ Widescreen HD ~800×400 multi-touch screen (with LED backlighting)
  • Built-in microphone, speakers and webcam.
  • Battery replacement program (for a clean, catch free finish)
  • WiFi connectivity (802.11 b/g/n)
  • WiMax connectivity (maybe saved for 2nd gen release, 802.16e-2005?)
  • 3G service (potentially with carrier contract)

While it would have been nice to break the psychological barriers given the current economic climate by hitting the $499 price point, price at launch would be around $599.00/€499.00/£449.00, and while unlocked iPhone 3G’s sell around that today (in Australia they’re apparently around USD550), supply with or without a 3G carrier contract may affect the price.

Connectivity is key so it will support at least WiFi, but for “always connected” service 3G may be required. WiMax may also be an option in some regions to provide connectivity while side-stepping the mobile networks. Given good connectivity the iPhone’s dialer functionality may make an appearance too, but rather than holding the thing up to your head you’d have to go for a bluetooth headset, and similarly if you were bored with the onscreen keyboard then a bluetooth Apple Wireless Keyboard would be your only option. The charging cradle would sport the traditional iPod connector and a slot with a photo-frame style appendage for holding the device at an adjustable angle, facilitating the use of the keyboard and making the device a pleasure to use on the road (e.g. on trains/planes).

Although full-blown Mac OS X is pictured above, in reality a significantly reduced feature set would be available via an iPhone, Front Row and/or Cover Flow style interface running on something akin to Snow Leopard. This would be the main thing preventing cannibalisation of MacBook sales – the included AppStore wouldn’t include mainstream apps like iWork and Microsoft Office. Basic functionality would be provided via a suite of cloud computing tools like iWork.com but the absence of a keyboard would be another limiting factor. Similarly a lot of the media management would depend on a more traditional device (like the iPhone and Apple TV), but that doesn’t really matter since most of the content would be accessed over the Internet (at least when a high speed connection is available). Make no mistake – being a “netbook” this will largely be a single-purpose device, for watching YouTube videos, interacting with friends on Facebook, reading news feeds and so on. Nobody said netbooks had to be small or cheap but instant-on, constant connectivity is a must.

I for one would line up for this device (well, I’d submit an online order anyway) and if I were Steve Jobs I’d make its release my “I’m Back!” message.

Update: There’s evidence of new devices in the iPhone 3.0 OS images including the iProd and iFPGA. The iProd is likely a personal trainer device, though my initial reaction was a touch interface ala the tablet above. The iFPGA on the other hand is certainly referring to a different type of chip than the usual ASICs that can be programmed at the hardware level to function differently – this could well be a new architecture for the new devices.

2010 Update: With the announcement scheduled for tomorrow I thought I’d update this post to refine my predictions based on what we’ve discovered in the interim (it’s getting harder and harder for Apple to run a tight ship with secret product development – thanks to patent and trademark leaks, suppliers, and just plain old guesswork).

  • The device will be like a blown up iPhone and most importantly will run the iPhone OS (a derivative of OS X) rather than some skinned version of Snow Leopard.
  • It may be smaller than anticipated, but it will have a high quality screen like that of the Nexus One – possibly 7″ @ 1280×720 (for HD video content).
  • It will cost ~€499 in Europe with a mobile contract like T-Mobile’s Complete L (€899 without), and that contract may well include voice, text, etc. in addition to data. Contrast to the Amazon Kindle which provides free albeit limited service for store purchases, subscriptions and soon, 3rd party applications.
  • It won’t be immediately available, rather it will ship February/March (possibly March 1st).
  • Not much will be said about the specifications (as is the case for iPhone) but they will be quickly discovered and likely in line with what I suggested above – except perhaps for a bump in solid state storage for video.
  • Apple tend not to mix messages so there will be a lot of focus on specific use cases. Figuring this to be young/middle-aged professionals with discretionary spending even in a tough economic environment I’m thinking education and entertainment. Books. Magazines. Newspapers. Games. Movies. Music.
  • Expect a lot of the content to be subscription based, though given 3G is the weak link for delivery of HD video the focus will likely more be on newspapers et al (which are relatively cheap to deliver while still offering significant value)
  • The interface will want to be sexy – think photorealistic page turns and [enhanced?] coverflow based browsing.