John Paczkowski

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iTablet: Apple's Killer App for Higher Ed

Q: Will there be an iPhone?
Steve Jobs: One never knows. We don’t usually discuss products we haven’t announced.
Q: What do you think of the tablet PC?
Jobs: We’re not sure the tablet PC will be successful. It’s turned into a notebook that you can write on. Do you want to handwrite all your email? We have all the technology ourselves to do that–we just don’t know whether it will be successful.”

–Interview with Apple CEO Steve Jobs, International Herald Tribune, Sept. 2002

Are you passionate about providing handwriting solutions to end customers? Do you strongly believe that using a stylus and a tablet is the way to interact with computers?”

–Apple recruitment ad, Aug. 11, 2005

At a 2007 all-hands meeting to discuss the iPhone, Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs said the company has the “best Macs” ever in the new-product pipeline right now. The machines waiting in the wings are “off the charts,” he said. Now just what Jobs meant by that is, obviously, known only by the man himself and those whose heads would be piked on the gates at 1 Infinite Loop if they ever told.

But according to Apple Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer, we’ll find out before the year is over. Apple is headed for a “future product transition” later this year, Oppenheimer said during the company’s quarterly conference call with investors Monday. And it will involve “state-of-the-art new products that our competitors just aren’t going to be able to match.”

With Apple’s MacBook and iPod lines both due for refreshing, it was easy to presume that these are the products to which Oppenheimer was referring. But what if they aren’t? What if he was referring to Apple’s mythical tablet PC? Consider this rumor posted to MacDailyNews:

Think MacBook screen, possibly a bit smaller, in glass with iPhone-like, but fuller-featured Multi-Touch. Gesture library. Full Mac OS X. This is why they bought P.A. Semi. Possibly with Immersion’s haptic tech. Slot-loading SuperDrive. Accelerometer. GPS. Pretty expensive to produce initially, but sold at “low” price that will reduce margins. Apple wants to move these babies. And move they will. This is some sick shit. App Store-compatible, able to run Mac apps, too. By October at the latest.”

Sounds plausible, doesn’t it? Certainly, given the success of the iPhone’s multi-touch platform and its speedy extension to the iPod Touch, it doesn’t take take a leap of imagination to see multi-touch making its way into a Mac tablet. Hell, it might even use the finger as a stylus. Handwriting recognition has come a long way since the Newton, and if you don’t believe that, check out the Chinese character recognition system on the iPhone.

Running with this a bit further, a finger-as-stylus touchscreen Mac tablet would make a hell of a nice counterpart to Apple’s new MobileMe service, wouldn’t it? It would make a great e-book reader too–if Apple ever gets around to adding a bookstore to iTunes. And if Apple were to link it up to iTunes U, as it undoubtedly would, the Mac tablet might even become higher education’s killer app. Especially if it arrives at market right before school starts, as it seems scheduled to do. A notebook, a textbook AND a MacBook–all in one.

Sound like “a state-of-the-art new product that our competitors just aren’t going to be able to match” to you? Does to me.

Still, Jobs has often dismissed rumors of an Apple tablet. “There are no plans to make a tablet,” Jobs said during a panel discussion at the 2003 All Things Digital conference. “It turns out people want keyboards. … We look at the tablet and we think it’s going to fail.”

Of course Jobs said Apple would never build a phone, either.

[Image Credit: FactoryJoe]

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