Government // Mobile & Wireless
Commentary
1/11/2010
04:48 PM
Jake Widman
Jake Widman
Commentary
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Apple's Slate To Get Videoconferencing, Multi-Touch Business Apps?

According to reported statements by a French telecom executive and to newspaper sources, the long-awaited Apple "iSlate" will be an advanced videophone and will enable gesture control of productivity applications. These two capabilities, if true, could make the device a much more attractive business tool.

According to reported statements by a French telecom executive and to newspaper sources, the long-awaited Apple "iSlate" will be an advanced videophone and will enable gesture control of productivity applications. These two capabilities, if true, could make the device a much more attractive business tool.After months of rumors, the conventional wisdom has pretty much settled on what the the Apple tablet will look like. The consensus at this point is that we can expect a device with a 10- or 11-inch touchscreen, priced around $1,000, and available in March or April. With the form factor dealt with, the discussion has now turned to what it might be able to do.

This morning, Stphane Richard, an executive with the French telco Orange, sort of confirmed the presence of a webcam that will enable real-time video chats. In an interview with the radio station Europe1, Richard was asked about a report in the French news magazine Le Point that the tablet would have a webcam. His initial replies of "Yes" could be interpreted as confirming that he'd seen the report in Le Point, not necessarily that the tablet will have a camera.

But the interviewer then asked him if Orange subscribers would benefit from the webcam, and his answer is less ambiguous. The video of his reply was posted by technology news site Slashgear and transcribed by tech blog Engadget. Richard says, "Avec la webcam, on pourra se transmettre de l'image en tems rel. On va moderniser en quelque sorte ce visiophone qu'on a connu y a quelques annes..." Or, as translated by an Engadget reader, "With the webcam, we will be able to transmit video in real time. We will modernize in some way this videophone that we have known for some years."

Since news of that "confirmation" broke, the Orange public relations staff has been busy denying that Richard meant any more than that he knew about the speculation. Whether that's true or not, equipping the iSlate with a camera that would support video chat would be a pretty obvious move.

The way users will interact with the device has also been the subject of speculation. According to a reader at the Cult of Mac, who claims to have spoken with an Apple employee, the device will have a "steep learning curve." That doesn't sound like Apple, but if it's true, it may be due to the inclusion of a complex multitouch interface. The New York Times has quoted a former Apple engineer as saying, "The tablet should offer any number of unique multitouch experiences -- for example, three fingers down and rotate could mean open an application.'" That kind of thing can get complicated, as anyone who's spent time with the multifinger gestures on Apple's recent MacBook Pros knows. The trackpads let you drag two fingers to scroll, twist thumb and forefinger to rotate, swipe three fingers to step forward and back through Web pages, use four fingers to activate Expos -- it can take a while to get the hang of it and remember all the options.

The Times goes on to quote another source with ties to Apple as saying that the company has "spent the past couple of years working on a multitouch version of iWork," Apple's word processor-spreadsheet-presentation suite. If true, this suggests that Apple wants the slate to be not just a platform for browsing the Web and playing multimedia. If it is to be a useful business tool as well, it will need to support common business tasks, and certainly editing office documents is one of those. There are already touch-enabled Microsoft Word and Excel editors for the iPhone, so the feasibility of such an application has already been demonstrated. And a handheld tablet sounds like an ideal platform for carrying on a video chat or setting up a low-tech teleconference.

One of my concerns about an Apple tablet all along is what would enable it to find a widespread place in business, where so many other tablet computers have failed. It looks like Apple's been asking itself the same thing; hopefully they've come up with some good answers.

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