This is the inevitable Apple Tablet post. Barring any last-minute explosion in Silicon Valley caused by the white-heat of tech journalist speculation, Apple should reveal their hitherto mythical Tablet device next week.
All the rumours seem to point to it running some form of iPhone operating system, and that iPhone OS 4.0 will be revealed (there’s a really good Gizmodo UI speculation article on this). But what’s really interesting me is how could a Tablet fit into Apple’s existing home setup, where iTunes is the media hub? And what this could mean for the iPhone?
A MEDIA HUB OR JUST AN EXTENDER?
With Apple media, everything flows through iTunes on your Mac (or Windows). And the iTunes application on the desktop is many things:
- Media library
- Radio station directory
- A store for Music, Videos, Podcasts, Audiobooks and Apps
- A system for sharing music and syncing (with Home Sharing)
- Managing synchronisation of all this to iPhones and iPods
- Sending music to Airport Express and Apple TV units using AirTunes
On the iPhone, iTunes has far less functionality. It is effectively is split into four apps:
- iTunes Store
- App Store
- Remote (to control iTunes clients on local computers)
On the iPod Touch, the iPod app is further broken down into separate “Music” and “Video” apps. Also consider the Apple TV, which has the effective functionality of the iPod and iTunes Store apps on the iPhone, plus it can act as an AirTunes receiver.
SO HOW COULD WE USE THIS TABLET FOR MEDIA?
It depends on what sort of iTunes is present, and of course the amount of (I’m assuming) flash-based local storage. There probably won’t be enough local storage on a Tablet for it to act as a main repository of media. It’s also extremely unlikely to have a DVD reader built-in, meaning no direct CD importing (although that hasn’t stopped the MacBook Air from running the full iTunes desktop app). The Tablet is likely only to act much as the iTunes apps do on the iPhone at the moment, with perhaps some important extra abilities
The Apple TV could be a good pointer. Over the local network, it can play shared iTunes media, and sync (whole or subsets of) iTunes libraries stored on other computers.
- Playing media that shows as “Shared” from other computers
- Syncing media from other computers
– so that local copies of desktop iTunes libraries are available on the Tablet
- Acting as an AirTunes receiver
– so that desktop copies of iTunes can send music and video to the Tablet
- Acting as an AirTunes sender
– making media stored locally on the Tablet available to other iTunes clients
You would expect to do more on a Tablet, as it’s more like having a desktop. So iTunes on the Tablet could include music management, such as creating and altering playlists. This sort of functionality is not currently available on the iPhone, except in a limited way with Genius playlists.
Some of this *is* available, however, with the iPhone’s Remote app: you can delete songs from playlists or playlists themselves, and add tracks to the iTunes DJ playlist, but that’s about it.
I’d like to see this extended, so that you can manage playlists for media stored on the Tablet itself (and have those changes synced back to desktop iTunes clients). I’d also like to have music management built in to a Tablet Remote app, so that you can alter playlists on remote computers, and use it to control streaming to an Airport Express, Apple TV – and maybe even the Tablet itself.
IT’S NOT JUST MUSIC AND VIDEO
Let’s not forget iPhoto. My iPhoto library is too big for my wife’s old iBook laptop, so she uses her own iPhoto store, and has access to a copy of our full photos via a shared copy on my iMac server. Which I have to keep merged, which involves a lot of manual fiddling. Uh.
Apple need a way to make managing syncing and subsets of photos easier as well. And they already have it: iTunes Home Sharing. It would be a very good way of getting photos on the Tablet, and allow for syncing back to a central store. Bonus points: allow that central store to be on a Time Capsule.
All this could point to a more comprehensive ability to sync wirelessly – more than just contacts, calendars and email at the moment. Maybe with an API for developers? Right now, I have to sync all my iPhone apps separately, which is a pain. I’d love to be able to sync them all at once.
Perhaps this could also include Back to my Mac, so that you could access media remotely. Or maybe the iTunes.com rumours are true, and all of it will just move into the cloud so we won’t have to worry about syncing at all…
All of media features I’ve looked at could be included in iPhone OS 4.0 on an Apple Tablet. But what does this mean for the iPhone itself? The next revision of the iPhone will certainly have more storage and probably fast 802.11n wireless networking – making it suitable for all of the above functionality. Apple excels in making media accessible to users, and I’d like to see a Tablet that’s both excellent as a standalone device, and also complements the setup that I already have.
And just for the record, I think it’ll be called the iBook