Among all the speculation about the forthcoming Apple Tablet/iSlate/iPad has been a thread of uncertainty: no one is really sure what it’s for; what niche it fills.
Everyone has been missing the obvious: it’s an e-reader for birdwatchers.
I have two field guides on my iPhone: butterflies and birds. I haven’t had a chance to use the bird guide in earnest yet, but the butterfly guide has been useful several times. You never know when you might see a butterfly, and when you do, you need the information on hand immediately if you’re going to have a chance to identify it. I would happily fill my phone with other field guides — trees, flowers, fungi, dragonflies — just so I could always have that information to hand.
So that’s good. But but but: the screen is not big enough. A real, paper field guide would have several species, each with several illustrations, and distribution maps, and text, all on the same double-page spread. The phone has space for one or maybe two illustrations per screen; that means an awful lot of scrolling backwards and forwards to compare species.
Until screens get much much higher resolution, you’re never going to fit as much information onto a screen as you can on a printed page; but for these purposes, any increase in screen size is a bonus. And no, even with 16 levels of grey, an electronic paper display is not going to cut it.
And it’s not just field guides: there’s a new app for the iPhone that, for £25, has 1:50,000 scale Ordnance Survey maps of, for example, the South-East of England. Always having an OS map with you whenever you go for a country walk: how cool is that? Well, it’s a damn sight cooler with a 10″ screen than it is with a 3½″ one.
So, since the Tablet is going to be aimed at birdwatchers and ramblers, I confidently predict it will be a rugged, waterproof device designed for outdoor use.
No, just kidding.
OK, so the examples that spring to mind for me are rather specific, and Steve Jobs isn’t about to launch an incredible new product aimed specifically at birdwatchers and hikers. Sadly. But really, I think people might be overthinking this. After all, when is a bigger screen not a useful thing to have?