3 Feb 2010
Tablet fever isn't going away, even though Apple has finally launched its iPad and the rumour-mongering can end. Indeed, there are new rumours of further Apple devices, in varying sizes (including larger) and with capabilities more like a laptop. And Google has shown off proof-of-concept images and video of its own device - or, at least, of the Chrome OS running on a tablet.
The latter is, perhaps, more intriguing. It's hardly a surprise that Apple is planning to launch more tablet models. For a start, it needs to address some of the shortcomings in the current iPad, such as lack of multitasking. And the response to the 'overgrown iPhone' clearly shows that there is a market desire (if not a demand) for a more capable, laptop-like device running a fuller version of OS X, rather than the iPhone OS (even if version 4 with multitasking might be ready soon).
Google's possible entry into this market might be a tad more significant, especially for those of us interested in e-books. The images, shown on the Chromium blog (Chromium being the project name for the Google Chrome OS and browser), simply show what the company's forthcoming OS might look like on a tablet. It's not a preview of an actual device. But it might be read as an expression of intent.
In Google's Chrome OS, the browser is the OS. Everything happens in the browser. Google is already making use of the features of HTML5 (which won't be finalised for some years) to create hybrid applications that blur the distinction between programs that run on your computer and those on the web. The online element is a key part of the experience and the functionality of the platform.
This is interesting in the light of the iPad. Tablet computers have been with us for years. But the majority took some flavour of Microsoft Windows and tried to squeeze this PC environment into a device clearly not suited to it. With the iPad, Appple has come from the opposite direction. Instead of attempting to put a PC on a tablet and then saying "see what you can do with this", it has asked "what do people want to do with a tablet?" and has provided those capabilities in a pleasurable and simple package.
No doubt, future iterations of the iPad will involve some degree of mission creep. But it's perfectly obvious that Apple is focusing on the experience that it believes people want.
An important part of that experience is reading books. And the iBooks app does for reading what iTunes did for music: it provides a single, integrated environment for browsing, sampling, buying, managing and using. And it does this by seamlessly integrating both the online and offline elements.
Enter Google. Its Chrome OS environment is ideal for creating these kinds of hybrid applications. Indeed, that's the entire basis of the operating system. One can easily imagine an application that provides both an e-book reader and a web browsing capability. And then you can add to this mix Google Books and the company's ongoing settlement with book rights holders. Now you have both the technology and the products for a major e-book platform.
Watch this space.