What might the iPad have been? Apple announced it as a Magical and Revolutionary Device, defining "an entirely new category". But it actually only addresses a small part of the yawning gap between mobile handsets and notebook computers, where there's still a lot of defining to be done. There's space there for dramatically different reimaginations of the iPhone, for counter-attacks from handset companies, and for diverse devices based on Google's Android.
A few weeks ago, on the eve of the iPad's launch, The Register spoke to the iPad's designers - yes, that's right, Fujitsu. But we didn't talk about either the legal matter or that particular piece of Fujitsu hardware; the Fujitsu iPad is just one of a number of pen-tablet and touchscreen devices that Fujitsu has been selling into specialist and vertical markets for over 20 years. The company hasn't set the world on fire, certainly, but it has a lot of experience of building hardware in this sector - it knows the constraints and the market.
The 'iPad' that wasn't
We talked to Munich-based Meinolf Althaus, mobile clients sector director of product strategy, first about the Fujitsu 'iPad' we're never going to see. It wasn't going to be called the iPad, that brand being taken already even before Apple made a grab for it, but it would have been a far more overtly consumer device than Apple was going to present us with the very next day.
Apple's device, it's worth noting, is a pretty conservative one; Apple tells us you can use it to browse the web, send email, watch videos, read books - just like you already can with computers from Apple and a whole bunch of people.
Future content distribution deals may allow the Apple iPad to define that "entirely new category", but right now it looks like something intended to appeal far more to Apple's core computer-buying fan-base than to young mobile phone and iPod buyers. It's conservative both in terms of features and in target markets.
Fujitsu's planned device was anything but. Says Althaus: "We thought, let's do a device with a 6-7in screen, running Android, with hardware from Nvidia or Qualcomm, Snapdragon or Tegra." Like the Apple iPad, this was intended to be a data consumption device, but unlike the iPad it was to be small enough to be carried in a pocket. It would have been aimed at young people who would use it to consume music and video content, and to share that content, and it was intended to be voice-controlled. This latter aspect of the device was vital, in Althaus' opinion. "Voice is obvious."
The Register raised an eyebrow, wondering how voice control could function in the noisy clubs Althaus expected his target market to inhabit. But he retorted that voice recognition is now easily good enough to deal with this, to the extent that your phone could be better at hearing you than the friend standing right next to you. If he's right, then voice really could be a killer app for Android, and Google is right to keep pushing it.