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August 18, 2009

The Apple Multi-touch Tablet – A Mouse Replacement?

Filed under: Tech Predictions — Vasilios Theodorakis @ 2:43 pm

OK, OK – why, might you ask, am I now getting into technology predictions? Very simple really, my wife continues to point out how I have this uncanny ability to predict what companies like Apple are about to release. She thinks I should be sharing these predictions with people other than herself – partially because it bores her to death, and partially because it may be of more interest to other technophiles. :)

Contrary to what she has come to believe, there is nothing psychic about my predictions of new gadgets. It’s all about reading widely in the tech industry (which I have to do for my web work), and extrapolating product lines. Most companies develop their products on the basis of what they want the customer to “believe” they need. Their PR gurus then go to work on convincing the customer that they “have to have” the item. There are lots of strategies for doing this, especially with today’s hi-tech marketing and advanced industrial design. In this way, tech companies often groom their customers for a new product through incremental technological changes. It’s very rare for businesses to randomly dump a new type of device on the market without preparing the commercial environment for the introduction of the product. In instances where they do dump a new category of device on an unsuspecting public, it almost always fails. Just look at the Apple Newton – a great device, but no one knew what to do with it on a day to day basis. In addition to this, companies inadvertently leave behind a trail of clues that outline the new product’s purpose, especially when they begin modifying related technology to work with the new product.

So far, I’ve successfully predicted that if Steve Jobs ever returned to Apple, Inc. he would simplify it’s product line and reintroduce an all in one Mac. Everyone made fun of me at the time, but this of course did occur when the iMac was introduced in 1998. I also predicted that Apple would create a commercial and legal ecosystem for music downloads and come up with a “useful” MP3 player when I realised they had converted the SoundJam MP program into iTunes 1 (in early 2001). The only thing I didn’t get right was just how intuitive and user friendly the iPod’s interface was going to be.

So what’s my latest prediction? The Apple Multi-touch Tablet of course, but not in the way that all the tech sites are describing. I predict that Apple will attempt a paradigm shift in the way we interact with our personal computers and access data wirelessly. The interesting thing about the shift is that all the components for it are already in place – touch screens, small footprint operating systems, cutback keyboards, wireless networks in homes and offices. So many of the components are in place, that the device should fit into most people’s lives without its introduction being a surprise at all. Even so, it will be a paradigm shift away from what we’ve grown accustomed to i.e. using a mouse as a pointing device.

So this is my prediction, as we move towards our computer desktops actually becoming our physical table’s desktop, we’ll need medium sized multi-touch surfaces to get used to the idea of the computer disappearing all together. I believe that Apple and other computer companies are slowly moving in this direction, but the hardware change they’re pursuing won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, people need to get used to touch screens and what better way to do this than by replacing the mouse (and mouse-pad) with a touch screen device. Let’s call the device an “iPad” in recognition of track-pads already on notebooks. After all, laptop owners have been using track-pads instead of mice for years now. What Apple probably wants us to do, is start using desktop PCs that are made up of a small keyboard, screen and small multi-touch device – no mouse. If this wasn’t the case, why did Steve Jobs finally allow the mouse to become multi-button based? Anyone who’s followed how obsessed he was with single button devices, knows he wouldn’t have let go of the single button mouse, unless he was absolutely sure the mouse was already on its way out! Initially when purchasing such computers online, I expect that you’ll be able to choose between a mouse and a multi-touch tablet (iPad?). Because the tablet will be so expensive on release, only the die-hard Mac-Heads will choose this sort of computer bundle.

I’m guessing that while such a device is connected to a desktop machine, its touch pad app, numeric keyboard app or desktop screen duplication app would link its iPhone OS to the main machine’s Mac or Windows OS. While working as a touch pad, the screen would probably go blank in order to conserve battery power and not distract the user from using it as a touch pad.

In addition to the tablet doubling up as a mouse (numeric keypad, mirror or extended screen, etc.), the consumer would be able to disconnect the tablet from the desktop machine and move around a house outfitted with a wi-fi network for general emailing, web browsing, tv streaming etc, just like other iPhone OS devices. They’d only reconnect the device to the desktop machine in order to carry out computing tasks that are too cumbersome to do on a tablet.

The beauty of this paradigm shift is that Apple gets rid of the mouse, annihilates the netbook market and monopolises the touch screen industry in one go. It also gets people ready for the day when the computer is the desktop and the desktop is the computer – no keyboard, no mouse, no screen – just the flat surface of the desk. (The flat surface preparation has already began with Apple’s introduction of low profile keyboards.) When looking at the current iMacs and their keyboards, its not hard to image how these machines could first evolve into drafting board devices and then finally into completely flat digital desktop surfaces that cover a normal table.

How did I come up with this prediction? “Elementary my dear Watson!” I collated the following tech facts and made a deduction. The facts include:

  1. Reports of Chinese manufactures dropping the use of mice and adding track pads to standard keyboards i.e. one device instead of two. Some Chinese tech companies are notorious for stealing concepts before they get released. i.e. In this case the idea of getting rid of the mouse.
  2. Common knowledge that Apple has been working on a tablet for a long time.
  3. Apple already has an optimised OS i.e. iPhone OS for multitouch screens. It doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel, and this OS finally does everything a micro OS needs to do, like cut, copy and paste.
  4. Apple is now bundling keyboards without numeric keypads so a different device can finally slot in next to the keyboard. This also means that if the device was touch screen based, it could have customised programs that simulate a numeric keypad as well as do the job of the mouse.
  5. The Mac OS Finder now uses “Cover Flow”. i.e. one wouldn’t start building this into their OS unless one intended all their computers to use some form of touch screen to scroll from side to side.
  6. Making upright touch screens, as Acer and HP have done are impractical and non ergonomic – they need to lie flat. Anyone who has used these screens for more than a few minutes ends up with instant RSI.
  7. Apple likes to shake up markets – as it did with personal computers, MP3 players and smart phones. It’s been tracking the netbook market for sometime and is really the only company currently able to reinvent these devices as something that “everyone” will need.
  8. Apple has tried the idea of a portable device docking into a desktop workstation a number of times. For example the Powerbook Duo and Duo Dock. Unfortunately, the concept never caught on even though the equipment was very robust. In addition to the dock’s commercial failure, a multi-touch tablet would effectively waste or under utilise its touch screen, especially if a docking mechanism swallowed it up. To highlight this point please see’s suggested picture of an Apple Tablet Dock.

I therefore believe Apple’s Multi-touch Tablet will be a stand alone device which doubles as a peripheral device. It will probably continue as such, until it becomes as ubiquitous as the mouse and is bundled with every computer. This prediction could be completely wrong, but I’d be very surprised if Apple didn’t do something along these lines. Too many things in the tech industry are currently pointing towards just such a development.

Post Update: 29/08/2009
There are now numerous rumors circulating that support my theory that the Apple Tablet will be a replacement for the mouse. Both are currently on the site i.e.
A –
which talks about the tablet being made of aluminium just like the keyboard and thus complimenting the keyboard’s design.
B –
which shows a picture of a tablet made out of aluminium just like the keyboard, and again complimenting the keyboard’s design when positioned alongside the keyboard.

An additional point I’d like to make is that the tablet will be able to go both ways, act as a mouse and have a keyboard plugged in to it in order to do more serious typing.

Post Update: 08/09/2009
I’ve just discovered further circumstantial evidence to support my theory.
Please read:

I didn’t realise that Apple had purchased FingerWorks in 2005. I believe almost all of the functionality that existed in FingerWorks products is about to appear in the yet to be released Apple Multi-touch Tablet. Its interesting to note, that I came up with my prediction independent of any knowledge of FingerWorks existence, its products and its purchase by Apple, Inc.

Post Update: 18/09/2009
An additional thought – now that Mac OS X has Grand Central Dispatch, a desktop setup which included a desktop machine and a tablet could make use of the tablet’s chip-set to increase the processing power of the desktop machine. This would occur when the tablet was being used as a multi-touch interface for the desktop machine and the chips were able to share the workload wirelessly etc. If Apple implemented this, they would be a whole generation ahead of the competition as all Apple’s machines would be made up of multiple computers that could combine their processing power.

Post Update: 20/01/2010
Since I first wrote this piece and posted the updates, a series of things has happened which I still think point towards the Apple Tablet being a paradigm shift away from using the mouse.

Firstly, Apple brought out the magic mouse which has a touch sensitive surface and is acting as an excellent bridge between the era of the mouse and the era of the tablet.

Secondly, Apple began buying up all sorts of trademarks like magic slate and ipad. To me, this points towards the idea that they want the product identified as a stand alone touch pad – as opposed to the built in touch pads on laptops.

Thirdly, after leaving running since Apple bought the company, the site was finally pulled on the 11/01/2010. Reason for this – they obviously don’t want the FingerWorks multitouch peripheral interfaces being compared with the multitouch tablet as a peripheral interface.

So am I right or am I wrong? According to almost everyone the Tablet and its launch is scheduled for the 27th January – just over a week away. If I am right that will give me a “hat trick” in terms of Apple predictions and force all the rumors sites to eat humble pie – I should point out, that not one of them has linked to this article. Alternatively, if I’m wrong then my track record will be ruined and I of course will be the one eating humble pie!

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