Recently I was given just 24 hours to explore a first production build of the Apple iTablet -- and here are my first impressions and discoveries. First, it's more like an iPhone than a MacBook. The operating system depends on gestures, and expands the vocabulary. Your hand is going to be dancing.
Second big news: it's not just an application platform and full-color reader and media player. It's also a dual camera and, yes, read this twice, a phone. And therein lies a tale. For those whose habits have been formed around their iPhones, be very, very careful when your iTablet rings for the first time. That urge to whip the thing with its ginormous 10 inch screen up to your ear is going to play havoc with your eye. In the small group of folks I ran into who were returning their demo versions, most of us had nasty shiners.
Apple assures us that final production versions will come with training corners -- foam wedgies that will soften the blow until the user gets used to answering the giant device. And the second mod will be a catcher's mitt-like webbing on the back of the iTablet so you can one hand it.
Killer apps? Try this -- for those who will want to mount the iTablet high on their dashboard, this thing is going to block your view. So Apple has come up with the brilliant iDrive. The camera on the back side stays live and you basically can see right through your iTablet, like a virtual window. A second camera, imbedded invisibly in the screen, can provide help in backing up.
When you're not in your car, the embedded cameras creates iMirror, and one of the coolest apps we've seen so far is iTrim. Male or female, select your hairstyle from dozens of possibilities, and then iTrim gives you cut by cut directions so you can do it yourself. You might need a little help for the back and top, or you can sync up two iTablets and put them on the Infinite Barbershop Mirror setting.
Now with all that extra screen area to dance your hand on, Apple has greatly expanded the gestures it understands. First, there's the Full Palm Down. Just spread out your hand and plant it on the screen. Whatever program that's currently running will screech to a halt. Flip your hand over and give it the Brush Off, and the program will go away. Do it several times and the screen will clear. Then there's the Fist Bump. Closed fist means 'Yes.' Or Agree, or Continue, Install, or 'Can I have some more, please?'
Finally, all of publishing has been praying that the iTablet will be a Kindle killer and free the publishing world from the threat of world domination by Amazon. Success may depend on whether people will want the reading part of their life to be as easily interrupted as everything else in their world. When your book can hurl e-mails at you, ring your phone, cut your hair and even show you who's sneaking up behind you, some may not find that to be the ideal reading environment.
Then there's the concern about the infantilism that permeates Steve Job's attitude toward culture. "People don't read anymore," is one of his brilliant observations. On iTunes, all music has become a "song." Verdi's Requiem Mass is downloadable as a bunch of songs. For an entire generation, a Beethoven symphony is now four songs. This is surely a crime against humanity of some sort.
So take the same attitude and apply it to books. And guess what? You aren't going to be buying a 'book' on the iTunes store. You're going to be buying a 'story' one chapter at a time, whether it's Wind in the Willows or Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, everything is going to be just a chapter in a story.
The good news is the color is great. You can zoom in for spectacular detail. And when you check in to that "mirror" function you'll be able to track the progress of your shiner.