(alternate title: how Apple is borrowing from Xerox PARC again)
Back in the heady days before the first Macintosh, when PC was in infancy there were a group of Apple researchers that took a visit to Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and took a look at a Xerox research product called the Alto that had a graphical screen, and this weird thing called a mouse to collect user input. The Apple guys came back home and brought out the Lisa (not huge commercial success) and then a few years later the Macintosh was born. This is history.
When I was in grad school, we got to take a tour of Xerox’s PARC and had an hour long lecture by Mark Weiser about Ubiquitous Computing ( look here and here ) which was fascinating. The year was 1996/97ish, and you have to recall the technology of the time. Weiser was excited about a few things, some haven’t really fleshed out (really cheap computers ~$5 per device — but look at flash drive prices; and the influence of IrDa – infrared as a local networking stack) but I think the one thing he’s come close to identifying is the three form factors of a pad, a tab and a board.
This was at the very beginning of Palm’s device, and that was considered a ‘tab’ something extremely portable, personal and identifible. In Apple speak this has grown into the iPhone/iPod Touch size devices.
The next form factor was the ‘tab’, this is roughly paper sized and very portable, Weiser saw this as impersonal, like sheets of paper but that could compute, you could push your presence to the device through your pad. Apple currently doesn’t have a device that fits this description, the closest could be the iBook line, but Weiser identified this as NOT a notebook computer. Could the rumors flying around Cupertino about a new tablet big boy iPhone be this missing link.
The third form factor was the ‘board’, Weiser saw this as a large wall sized computer monitor where or a group white board type of device where again people could connect to a ‘presence’ via the internet or some other networked type infrastructure. Apple ‘kinna’ has this form factor in their iMac and/or AppleTV/MAc Mini displaying through a large HDTV. I say kinda, because again this doesn’t fit Weiser vision as a computing device.
Switch paradigms a bit. Apple is a first class hardware software company, but they’re making lots of money in a different market, media. Since the first iPod, Apple has increasingly become less a computer manufacturer (ala Dell) and more a media marketer. iTunes has become the center of their universe.
It seems to me, that Apple is hitting those form factors and tying them to iTunes for the distribution of content and ‘presence’ to your devices (iPhone, iTablet, AppleTV).
So while all the rumors fly of what the next announcement out of Cupertino will be this afternoon, my thoughts think history will repeat themselves a bit, and Apple will announce a tablet form factor (not a netbook, not a notebook, but something more ‘apple-ish’) as well as more changes to support an iTunes centric media-verse for their collection of devices.