In about 2 weeks Apple may or may not announce a product that may or may not be called the iSlate, or iPad, or iTablet or whatever. Speculation is currently absolutely rampant across the digirati. Some say it it will be an e-reader, some say a big iPod, some say a netbook Mac.
I’m going to go out on a limb: it’s the ultimate remote control.
This is entering the age of networked hardware. The “internet fridge” concept that nose-dived 10 years ago is back with a vengeance: hardware will be on the net, addresses web services. Cars, appliances, strange boxes that you connect to your TV and home – all of these need user interfaces.
However, UI’s are both expensive to build, and frankly hard to pull off well. That’s why we’ve seen generation after generation of terrible UI’s from hardware manufacturers – each being forced to reinvent the wheel over and over.
But now – why bother? Apple creates tools to build pretty good application UI’s without an overwhelming amount of work – and a streamlined mechanism (the iTunes app store) to distribute them. So instead of sinking a lot of cost into developing your own complete user interface for your hardware – why not just hook up to an app on a device that the user already owns?
There are already examples of this in the wild: the ZipCar iTunes app will actually unlock your car. If you invest in a Sonos sound system, you can run it from an iPhone app. And apparently the Ford Sync system is slated to run apps that you’ll be able to buy from the iTunes store.
So what might be possible if you had a 10-inch device that could act as a remote? Run a gigantic entertainment system? Dock in any piece of hardware and become a touch screen control for it? How about I use an “iSlate” to start my car? A $700 device isn’t that much against a $20,000 car. Or – how about running your home? AC, Heating, security etc could all be run from the iWhatever.
Using the standard user interface SDK and guidelines, people build controls for hardware based on behavior that is already well understood. The learning curve is reduced, and companies don’t have to sink a lot of money into UI development for their devices. It’s a slam dunk.