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12/10/2009
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Developers Anticipate Apple Tablet

With reports of Apple suppliers preparing a tablet, developers are thinking about the new app design possibilities.

Oppenheimer analyst Yair Reiner on Wednesday released a research note claiming that information from Apple's supply chain partners indicates that manufacturing for an Apple tablet is ramping up and that the product could be ready in March or April.

Though Apple has not officially acknowledged any plans for a tablet, the existence of such a device, something akin to a MacBook Air without its keyboard or a large form-factor iPod, is widely accepted, particularly among developers.

Walter Luh, co-founder of Ansca Mobile, maker of the Corona development system for iPhone apps, has worked for both Apple and Adobe. He says that while he believes Apple is working on a tablet, it's hard to say when it might be released.

"Until the project sees the light of day, it's never a foregone conclusion," he said. "Steve Jobs demands perfection and if he's not happy with it, it's not going to ship."

Eddie Marks, co-founder of Inedible Software, is a bit more certain. "I definitely think the tablet is coming," he said in an e-mail.

Other developers say that programming guidance from Apple's engineers at the company's developer conference to represent screen dimensions in iPhone apps as variables rather than as hard-coded numbers supports belief in a device with a different screen size. At the same time, that's simply good programming practice.

"Lots of people have tried to do tablets in the past," said Luh. "Apple always puts a unique twist on things so I think it will be very popular."

Whether or not Apple's tablet arrives as predicted, Luh says that Apple has changed the way we interact with devices, thanks to the success of the touch-screen iPhone and iPod touch.

"The whole keyboard metaphor has become antiquated," he said. "The iPhone, with its accelerometer and touch screen have unlocked new interface possibilities."

Luh expects that Apple is in the midst of hammering out new user interface guidelines for larger screens.

Developers, he says, should be thinking about whether their mobile apps and art assets will work on a tablet-sized screen.

One point of uncertainty is whether voice-based interaction, used in some iPhone apps, will fit the tablet as well as it fits a phone. Another question mark is whether the tablet will be suited for writing and other forms of content creation, or whether it will be better suited for content consumption, like the iPhone.

Marks says that his company hasn't made any major changes to prepare for a tablet.

"How I expect it to work is that as a developer we'll get the option to either keep our iPhone-sized window or to dynamically scale to take up the extra room," he said. "Some apps, such as a news reader or a Web browser, will probably be able to scale easily, while other apps, notably like ours that make very careful artwork and UI decisions based on the exact dimensions of the iPhone screen, cannot simply stretch to fit."

Marks expects that developers will be able to make tablet-only apps. "But I'd be shocked if the tablet didn't run all iPhone applications out of the box, just in their intended 320 x 480 pixel window," he said.

Marks says that both the iPhone and developers' apps have contributed to the new user-interface and interaction paradigms for touch-screen devices. "I'd imagine that these will easily carry over to the tablet, and that the only new paradigms will come from the ability to easily put more than three fingers on the screen," he said. "Certainly everything will be different from the desktop metaphor, but I think the groundwork for a multi-touch tablet has been well laid by the iPhone."

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