Apple working on Atom-based Internet tablet? Let's hope it's more open than the iPhone

Image Credit: AppleInsiderA long standing rumor that just won’t go away: Apple is working on a tablet computer of sorts. Only this time the source is Intel, no less, following comments made by the chip maker’s Manging Director for Central Europe Hannes Schwaderer.

Described as being a future member of the iPhone family, only slightly larger, the new offering will make use of Intel’s Atom processor, designed for a product category the company calls Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs). However, while the Atom is certainly low-powered, delivering a very efficient power-per-watt ratio compared to previous designs, in it’s existing ‘Silverthorne’ incarnation it isn’t suitable for cell phones — suggesting that Apple’s new device will be significantly different to the existing iPhone and iPod touch line. Instead, think of larger, more tablet-like devices, or conceivably, anything all the way up to low-cost sub notebooks such as Asus’ Eee PC.

Although it’s far from certain that Schwaderer would be privy to any future Apple plans, his comments seem to corroborate with earlier rumors suggesting that a multi-touch tablet is in the works. Sources told AppleInsider last September that the company was developing an “ultra-thin ‘slate’ akin to the iPhone, about 1.5 times the size and sporting an approximate 720×480 high-resolution display that comprises almost the entire surface of the unit.” The device would build on existing multi-touch concepts leveraged in the iPhone and iPod touch by adding drag-and-drop as well as copy-and-paste functionality. If plans remain on schedule, the tablet would be released in the first half of 08, according to the report. Apple’s WWDC kicks off on June 9th with a Steve Jobs keynote, and Intel’s Atom chip is due to ship the same month.

Atom’s Apple – how might an Apple/Intel tablet shape up?

Intel’s Atom family of chips have some pretty impressive specs. And the Atom platform as a whole includes an integrated graphics chip, with the higher end configuration capable of “1080i HD accelerated decoding and the ability to drive an external screen at up to 1080i”, reports The Register. “Not bad for a handheld”.

However, for all the speed and graphics-umph that Intel can offer Apple, other key factors are the version of OSX that will be utilized, and how open the device will be to developers. While porting over the multi-touch UI of the iPhone and iPod touch would best suit a future Apple tablet, the limitations of the iPhone’s third-party Software Developer Kit (SDK) and terms of use would be much less welcome. Applications written for the iPhone by third-parties aren’t given access to many of the OS’ deeper features, such as true multi-tasking or the ability to share data between applications, and all third-party software must be signed off by Apple and distributed through the iTunes Store. There’s also the vexing issue of the iPhone’s lack of a Flash plugin or support for DivX, negating access to lots of online video. To really be a game changing device, an Apple tablet would need to be as extensible as the Mac, else much of Atom’s power will go to waste.

Image credit: AppleInsider


last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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