What the Apple Tablet hype reveals about computing's sad state

Apple invites us to see its latest creation on Jan 27 2010
Apple invites us to see its latest creation on Jan 27 2010

Whether the Apple Tablet is launched tomorrow or not, it has achieved one extraordinary thing: it has shown that a lot of people have a really big problem with the current state of the art. That's pretty impressive for what is, at time of writing, still vapourware.

Either there's a lot of wishful thinking going on, or computing genuinely has stagnated and is ripe for a kick up the arse.

Here's a few examples. Add any more you've seen, in the comments.

Sad state of affair: Rubbish e-book readers

They are slow, ugly and inflexible. Worse, Amazon gets most of the loot from e-book sales. And they are useless for multimedia, magazines and newsprint. The iSlate will hopefully save all those industries thanks to the money siphoning power of iTunes, although nobody really knows how. And let's not mention the likely DRM.

Sad state of affair: the death of newspapers

Listen to the hype and many of the most fervent voices come from newspaper columnists worried about their futures.

Then google 'Apple tablet saviour' and you'll get over 40,000 results. Many of the top ones are concerned with the well-publicised problems surrounding the newspaper business and how the Tablet's physical interface will help readers re-engage with digital print. But can the iTablet really solve all these problems, let alone persuade people to cough up? I'm sceptical myself but it would be nice to think so.

Sad state of affair: the broken desktop metaphor

Even after Windows 7, the PC desktop/GUI metaphor is fundamentally exhausted and the iSlate must fix it, says Gizmodo, by extending the iPhone's multitouch, programmable interface further. Slate.com agrees, citing the usual gripe about how PCs are still too hard for mum. Therefore the iSlate can save computing by making it simple again. Just don't tell the jailbreakers.

Sad state of affair: Dull, un-innovative PCs

…Connected to the above, this view sees the iSlate as the Omega to the Mac's Alpha, the discovery of the Holy Grail of computing, the fabled 'information appliance', completing the job the Macintosh began. How? By finally delivering on Jeff Raskin's/Larry Ellison's visions: something so flexible yet simple, a baby could use it. But surely Natal/Surface have similar potential and nobody hyperventilated about those.

Sad state of affair: the entire internet

"The silos are getting crunched together", says Newsweek. "Somewhere out there, the Orson Welles of the digital age is in grade school, or maybe high school. Soon he or she will be inventing a new language for telling stories." The iTablet will apparently be the medium that ushers in "phase two of the Internet", gushes the author.

Sad state of affair: too many separate pieces of tech

Even with phones and laptops, gadgets proliferate, with separate e-readers, movie players, netbooks, TVs - whatever. Bring them together into one device and let's be done with it, say the pundits - hard to disagree with.

Sad state of affair: our kids' rubbish education

Amazon have had real problems making Kindle work for textbooks, given how students like to annotate and highlight key passages. The wonders of the iSlate's multi touch interface can address this too, if they can get the keyboard right. And if students don't crack the DRM and share everything first.

So there you have it: a tower of hope tottering on top of one little device. Good luck with this one, Apple.