Apple’s iSlate as game-changer

Cupertino's tablet may reshape media landscape

| Dec 26, 2009

It’s moving beyond the rumor stage into the realm of fairly concrete expectations. Apple is likely to announce its answer to other vendors’ tablets and netbooks, probably called the iSlate, at an event scheduled for Jan. 26 in San Francisco.

islate-coming-soonDelving into recent Apple patents, journalists and analysts are now predicting its touchscreen will have new, proprietary technology that transforms it, as needed, into a very usable typewriter keyboard, making the iSlate a direct challenger to today’s notebook computers and (the midget version of same) netbooks.

In addition, it may blow away Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook by leapfrogging their static black-and-white pages, adding color, video and stereo, high-quality sound.

One huge questions the pundits are pondering is just how successful Apple has been in bringing down the cost of such a sophisticated device. It’s rumored the device could retail for $1,000, but with the actual price being driven down by subsidies from publishers (in the way cellphones are subsidized by wireless carriers).

We predict Apple will announce deals not only with publishers but with major media companies, driving the device’s price down toward $700 from Day One if purchase is accompanied by signups to several newspaper, magazine and media company services (including TV-streaming services offered through Apple TV and perhaps other audio- and video-content bundlers such as Hulu, Netflix, PBS and NPR). Then, as volume ramps up, economies of scale from Apple’s all-Chinese production engine will lead to further price drops.

The prospect of a handy, beautifully designed and personal all-media player plus notebook computer will prove irresistible to the affluent, to Knowledge Workers and intellectuals (except the unemployed and impoverished ones), to students and to Cultural Creatives, with the wildfire starting in the U.S., then spreading to Europe. It will become the every-present companion to the media-addicted, as the iPhone already has.

What does such a device mean to small publishers such as our fledgling Boulder Reporter project? Possibly, trouble or extinction. Why? Because owners of struggling daily newspaper chains are probably already making deals to help subsidize iSlate purchases in their markets as a way to move successfully to electronic delivery, thus escaping, finally, the high cost of printing and delivering print products. They’ll have a new and powerful proposition for advertisers, relying heavily on video and click-through direct response. Local TV stations will be able to play the game, too, offering continuous news and geographically targeted advertising.

However, it’s quite possible the game-changing impact of the iSlate may be lost on newspaper publishers and others (after all, their reaction to Craigslist came years too late). Thus, nimble and resourceful new players on the media scene — anyone we know? — may respond much faster and build content and advertising relationships that leave stodgy publishers in their dust.

For Apple, this may well be Steve Jobs’ final (alas) major transformative blockbuster impacting the computing and media landscape. It also may be Jobs’s Volkswagen: a product that scales to mass-market dimensions. From Apple’s iMac and MacBook computers (darlings of the high-end consumer market), to its more recent products (the iPhone and especially the iPod Touch), Apple is gradually moving beyond pricey, snob-appeal products into consumer mass markets. Maybe the iSlate will continue in this vein, defining a legacy of Steve Jobs, technology guru not just to elites but to Everyman.