I Dream of Tablet, Part Two: App Store Ecosystem

by Josh Rubenoff Dec 08, 2009

If the folks at Apple are really developing a tablet computer based on the iPhone OS, they're going to have to jump some significant obstacles they've created for themselves. For one thing, if Apple wants to use this device to push HD video, the screen for this device would probably be at least 1280x720 pixels —all the better to display the 720p videos and iTunes LPs sold on the iTunes Store. So, Apple is going to have to redraw the entire GUI so that it fits on this larger screen.  But more importantly, and perhaps this is the biggest argument against the existence of an Apple tablet, the entire App Store, those 100,000+ mobile applications that Apple's so proud of, would be automatically incompatible with the new device because of its larger resolution. Off the top of my head, there are three solutions I see to this dilemma.

First, Apple could just upscale all the current iPhone apps to the resolution of the new device. Just like the DVD player on your computer upscales the disc's standard-definition video to the resolution of your monitor, Apple could automatically enlarge applications and games created for the iPhone so that they fit on this tablet's screen. But one immediate downside I can see to this solution is the relatively lackluster graphics performance of the iPhone's hardware. It's on par with other mobile devices and even other portable consoles, sure, but I don't think its games would look so great on an 8-inch screen. And even if Apple slaps a next-gen mobile graphics processor like Tegra or Snapdragon into this tablet to handle HD video, when the average consumer downloads an iPhone game (designed for the iPhone's hardware) off the App Store and it looks all blurry and pixelated they'll think their device is broken or contains lackluster hardware inside, which brings us to the other two solutions.

The company could just start a new App Store from scratch, segregating it from the iPhone/iPod touch and creating a marketplace in the iTunes Store specifically for this device. This actually might be a pretty smart idea. It's not like developers wouldn't be interested in creating third-party apps for the device. In fact, they'd probably be chomping at the bit to take advantage of the larger screen and higher resolution.
On the other hand, Apple could be tempted to keep the App Store for this device closed and proprietary, like they've done for the iPod classic and nano. Rumors from a few months back say that Apple's trying to court mainstream print and publishing companies to put their publications on this tablet. Maybe Apple intends to restrict development to just those companies. It could very well be that the section of the iTunes Store specific to the Apple tablet could just contain a bunch of digital newspapers, books and magazines, and maybe a few games from large game developers that Apple's given the tablet's SDK to, like Gameloft and EA—again, imitating the iTunes Store's marketplace for the iPod classic and nano thus far. A closed platform for an exclusive device.

I'll be interested in what opportunities Apple provides developers to release apps for this device... if, of course, the tablet is a real thing, and if it is ever released for the public.


[NOTE: This is the second in of a series of articles that constitute baseless speculation on a hypothetical Apple tablet computer. Everything below assumes that Apple is, in fact, working on a touchscreen device with a larger form factor than the iPhone to be used as a platform for digital books/magazines/newspapers, as well as a better way to view HD video.]


  • Hi,

    These are some good thoughts, but I see other alternatives.

    1.  They use run the iPhone Apps in a seperate compatibility layer like they did with Classic or 32/64 bit compatibility.  They could offer to let the users decide if they want to upscale or keep the same resolution by a simple maximize/minimize icon. They could offer free upgrades by the game vendors for better graphics compatibility or even a special API that would automatically upgrade games with the vendors consent.
    2.  They could have a partitioned tablet and it can ask the user if it wants to switch to iPhone mode where it will automatically list the iPhone Apps.  Then you don’t have to worry about the incompatibilities of emulation.
    3.  You can allow the iPhone to plug in to the tablet and have the tablet run as a larger screen of the iPhone.  This would be like target video mode in the new iMacs.  It would be awesome and promote more sales of the iPhone or iPod Touch.

    Apple is creative and looks long term.  It is a mistake to underestimate their desire to sell.


    Chimac had this to say on Dec 08, 2009 Posts: 1
  • I agree with the article - upscaling will make the device look less appealing.

    I think a separate app store - plus an easy system encouraging developers to easily port their apps across.

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Dec 09, 2009 Posts: 228
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