Apple is set to launch a tablet-like device in October, in time for the 2009 holiday season. If it's anything like what's expected, its native features plus those that could be annexed from Google would be enough to swamp Microsoft on a number of fronts.
The most comprehensive report, from the Financial Times, casts it as purely an entertainment device for showing movies, playing movies and acting as an ebook reader that, according to one observer, is to the Kindle what color TV was to black and white.
The touch-sensitive computer will have a screen that may be up to 10 inches diagonally-- It will connect to the internet like the iPod Touch â€" probably without phone capability but with access to the web, and to Apple's online stores for software and entertainment.The FT also said Apple will simultaneously release a product code-named "Cocktail," to help major music labels rekindle (forgive the pun) interest in the album experience, complete with liner notes and video clips.
The price point is likely to be high, but Apple clearly doesn't mind, since it now owns the high end of the computer and electronics market â€" by a 9 to 1 margin!
But while the device is being presented as a consumer device, I think it's pretty obvious that Apple will eventually endow it with enough features to make it a high-functioning business device that supports Web-based applications, wireless voice-over-IP (perhaps from Google) and collaboration tools like Wave to make it into a lightweight, multifunction device.
Who could resist the prospect of being able to hold video conference calls on a touch-screen powered device that also reads email, does chat and allows for real-time collaboration? Apple may well promote it as a consumer device, but then, it did the same with the iPhone before quickly making it enterprise-email friendly.
The advent of cloud computing combined with inexpensive digital storage and ubiquitous broadband availability makes desktop software increasingly anachronistic for most users, both consumers and businesses. Apple enjoys a cool factor with the iPod, iPhone, and (let's go out on a limb here) the forthcoming tablet, that Microsoft will never recover for its own entertainment devices. And more and more enterprise vendors, like Informatica, are offering services to help customers integrate cloud-based applications with their on-premise software.
The device is also a godsend to Google, because it will highlight the advantages of Google applications (not just the Apps, but revolutionary applications like Wave) and will have people spending more and more time online, which is the ultimate end-game for almost all of Google's business ventures.
But Google will never reap the benefits that Apple will. Longtime Silicon Valley observer and author Richard Brandt, whose Inside Larry & Sergey's Brain comes out this September from Penguin Portfolio, told me that Apple "understands the need to touch the customer... Probably Google's biggest weakness is it doesn't interact with its customers a whole lot," he told me last week.
Consumers have been using cloud computing since the first Yahoo mail account opened, have shopped at Amazon and stored their documents on Flickr. They're not as much of an issue. But business customers need to know there's someone around to hold their hands, and the only thing Google has to offer is LTech or Appirio or whomever the customer used as a software integrator. That's not going to win it friends among IT administrators, whereas Apple is a known quantity and understands customer service.
[Image source: vonguard via Flickr]