How Many Industries Will the Apple Tablet Upend? Pretty Much All of Them

Kimberly White / Reuters-Landov

With the unveiling of Apple's tablet computer less than 24 hours away, enough details have squirmed out of Steve Jobs's death grip to form a coherent picture of what the new device is likely to offer. After early speculation that the gadget would be a "Kindle killer," a gaming device, or just a really big iPhone, it appears possible that the Apple slate will be ... all of the above, a game-changer for an entire range of industries. Here's what the latest rumors, gossip, and details of varying confirmation point to:

  • PRINT (books). Amazon's Kindle is in trouble. BusinessWeek reports that Apple has held talks with Hearst, McGraw-Hill, and Hachette about bringing their printed material to the feature-packed tablet. Users of the Kindle love its intuitive interface and easy-on-the-eyes E Ink screen─but that display is grayscale only and slow to load new pages. Analysts are predicting that Apple's device will offer so much functionality─color, a real Web browser, and e-mail client, easy "loaning" of books to friends─that the Kindle will seem prehistoric in comparison. The blog 9 to 5 Mac says Apple is enticing major publishers with more control over pricing than they have on the Kindle platform.
  • PRINT (newspapers and magazines). News publishers screwed up en masse over the last decade by giving away their product for free online, and the Apple tablet represents a chance to put the genie back in the bottle, The New York Times reports today, citing interviews with people who have seen the device. Consumers have demonstrated a willingness to pay for stuff on mobile devices, from ringtones to text messages to tracks downloaded over the air from the iTunes store. That digital storefront has become familiar enough─and has so many credit-card numbers on file─that newspapers and magazines will finally be able to charge readers for polished, interactive editions of their product.
  • TELEVISION. The Financial Times reports that Apple is pushing TV networks to cut their average price per episode from $2 to $1 to jumpstart sales in the iTunes Store. Watching videos longer than a few minutes on the iPhone has always been a doable, but unsatisfying, experience. Eyestrain sets in, the battery doesn't hold up well, and you either have to hold the device at an angle or buy an awkward easellike accessory. A device sized at 10 inches would solve many of these problems. The FT also says that Apple is considering offering a subscription service at $30 a month, offering popular shows in a package meant to entice consumers to ditch their cable-TV packages. Less clear is how the tablet will interact with the much-derided Apple TV so that viewers will be able to watch their downloaded episodes on the plasma screen in the living room.
  • MOVIES. The experience of taking a book onto an airplane in the form of a Kindle is quite satisfying─so imagine the same scenario with movies on a slim, color device. Portable DVD players have long been a popular niche device for frequent travelers and families. There's no way the Apple tablet will include a bulky, noisy, battery-chewing DVD player─but undoubtedly it will be able to download and store lots of movies from the iTunes store.
  • MUSIC. The next version of iTunes will copy your music library to the cloud, TechCrunch says, using technology obtained in Apple's purchase of music-streaming service Lala in December. If the tablet has an always-on 3G Internet connection, your entire music collection will follow you everywhere─not just a subset synced via cable to your device, as has been the case since the original iPod. Add in music-discovery services like Spotify, Pandora, and, this is a fundamentally different way to listen to music, a step in the evolutionary chain as large as radio.
  • GAMING. Apple was surprised by the popularity of gaming on the iPhone and iPod Touch, but quickly realized what it had created. Cupertino even began positioning the iPod Touch as a gaming device last fall. Games on the platform run from simple logic (there are scores of Sudoku and puzzle apps) to slickly produced, $10 versions of major EA titles. Right now, of the top 10 highest-grossing apps on the iTunes store, seven are games. If games can be created this well on a 3.5-inch screen, imagine the quality possible with a 10-inch canvas and more processing power. Flurry Analytics, a firm that focuses on mobile apps, said last week that it has detected 50 tabletlike devices testing out of Apple's campus. The apps that these mystery devices downloaded? Games, by a substantial margin.

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