All the rumor mongering surrounding Apple's expected upcoming release of a humongous-screened iPod misses the point. A search of the USPTO database reveals that Apple isn't even the leader in Webpad patents. Hey, doesn't anyone remember the Windows-based Tablet frenzy, circa 2002? So the big deal this time is that Apple will legitimize the platform, particularly for business users. Indeed, I believe mobile Webpads could edge out netbooks--and even debuzz smartphones somewhat--and become the big alt.platform story of 2010.
OK, first let's get the name speculation out of the way. Everyone's all atwitter about "iSlate" and "TabletMac" as the possible contenders; these were uncovered by MacRumors. (See screengrabs below of the trademark information, which I obtained off of the U.S Patent and Trademark Office's TESS trademark database.)
MacRumors posits that Slate Computing LLC, which is listed as the owner of the iSlate mark, is actually a dummy Apple corporation. Hence the speculation that iSlate will be the name of the tablet, whose announcement is now widely assumed to be imminent, though there are no facts extant on this score. (Personally, I'm voting for "Humongous iPod" as the name, or better yet, "GinormousPod." That's what it's going to be, right?)
Anyway, the purpose of this post, in keeping with the business technology emphasis of this Web site -- a point of key differentiation now and throughout 2010, by the way -- is that, while iSlate/iPad/GinormousPod will be a consumer game-changer, I submit that it'll also have significant enterprise applications.
Firstly, it will legitimize the Tablet PC, which was the subject of a mostly abortive push by Microsoft and a passel of hardware partners -- including Toshiba, HP, Acer, NEC, Fujitsu, and Siemens. The tablets hit the market in November, 2002, upon the release of Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. (Here's a link to an article, Putting Pen to Screen On Tablet PCs, I wrote at the time for the October, 2002 issue of IEEE Spectrum [pdf download].)
You might argue that Windows tablets have indeed found a home, precisely in the biz tech applications about which I appear so concerned. You'd be correct, kind of. I think it's fair to say that purpose-built tablets are widely used in verticals -- we've all signed the pen-based thingies carried around by the UPS and FedEx delivery folks.
Apple's use of the touch screen and soft keypad have obviated those issues. (Much as I think soft keypads suck, the iPhone has proved that people can and will use them to do real work, aka sending emails.)
One of the most cogent comments regarding such usuability features emerged in a Slashdot thread on the iSlate. A commenter noted that Apple's big contribution to any technology isn't so much the technology itself, but rather well-designed user interfaces. This really rings true, and is why Apple is likely to succeed in tablets where the 2002 Windows crew failed.