Apple's Tablet: Open Or Closed?

Developers may catch a glimpse of Apple's stance on future software rights and controls next month when Apple discusses its development plans for Snow Leopard.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

May 22, 2009

4 Min Read

Apple is reportedly planning to release a media pad, tablet, or netbook in 2010. Though the company won't comment on upcoming projects, news sites in Asia claim to have identified suppliers for the future product.

Even less clear is whether this rumored Apple device will be an open or closed environment. Will it be a computer that the user can control, or an oversized iPod tied to iTunes and subject to Apple's corporate supervision?

Apple's first option is to cling to its existing MacBook hardware and application structure in favor of a tablet Mac that runs OS X, like the Axiotron Modbook.

First seen at Macworld 2006 in stealth mode, the company got Apple's blessing to create the single state version and price it starting at $2,290. The Modbook is manufactured by the same companies that make Macintosh systems. Axiotron ships the manufacturers the pen displays, the manufacturers rip the displays and keyboards out of standard MacBooks, and then add the Axiotron display.

Software developers would be taking a well-known course in developing such a tablet. Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June is expected to highlight its development plans for the next Mac OX platform called Snow Leopard. The operating system is well-trodden territory, developers know well their parameters, vendors know their roles, and the ecosystem has been good for the most part.

However, an Apple tablet based on its iPhone infrastructure stands a better chance of being widely embraced. Developers have been reinvigorated with dollar signs now that Apple's App Store has seen its 1 billionth app download. The store has allowed even novice developers to make and sell apps to the general public. Enterprises are using the App Store as a new opportunity for mobile workers to keep connected.

But an iPhone development approach for a Mac tablet could send out the wrong message. If content free of controversy is the only material available for Apple's tablet, 2010 could be the year that Google's Android-powered devices take off.

Case in point: Apple recently rejected the Eucalyptus app for the iPhone from the iTunes App Store. The company cited its prohibition on apps that contain potentially objectionable content.

Yet Eucalyptus contains no content: It's an e-book reader that can be loaded with any suitably formatted content chosen by the user.

Apple objected to the fact that a user of the app could load a text-only translation of the Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana, one of the books archived in Project Gutenberg.

"I am at a loss to explain why Eucalyptus is being treated differently than these applications by Apple," James Montgomerie, the application's developer, said in a blog post. "I'm also frankly amazed that they would suggest I should be manually censoring content that is being downloaded from the public Internet -- classic, even ancient, books, no less."

The book in question happens to be available through the iPhone's Web browser and through other e-book-reading apps for the iPhone like Stanza and's Kindle app.

Such inconsistency underscores developer complaints about how inscrutable and capricious Apple's approval process can be. And with the addition of parental controls to Apple's iPhone 3.0 software, some third-party Mac developers are hoping that will give the company an excuse to exercise less oversight.

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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