Is Apple about to introduce a "no OS" computer?
For some time now the tech bloggers have been going nuts over the prospect of a tablet computer from Apple. They've been focussing on hardware issues, in particular the "tablet" form factor. But one of the major themes of this blog, the disappearance of the personal computer as we know it, is highly applicable as well. Apple has a long and strong track record of streamlining user interfaces beyond their major competition (e.g. Apple ][, Macintosh, iPhone), and I expect them to do it again by introducing a "real computer" on which the visible operating system has been eliminated. There will still be an operating system, but largely hidden from the user, as on the iPhone (and similarly just a version of OS X).
As for the form factor, a tablet would be better for frequent use than a laptop (which has to be opened up), and more in keeping with a device that's more about "output" than "input". Most people don't type large amounts of text (tech bloggers are atypical but they usually forget that as they pontificate), and books and magazines and newspapers are gradually moving online (with the exception of those where high-quality printing is important). The screen could use protection, but it's really not that difficult with a good colourless-plastic screen protector (like those often used to protect smartphone screens) or a flip-up cover (like my old Palm IIIxe had), and particularly nervous people can use a full sleeve. As for typing, I imagine Apple would stick with an onscreen keyboard.
There's been some speculation that the device's software will be heavily oriented to reading material (e-ink based readers such as the Amazon Kindle won't appeal to all that many people; they can't even display colour, let alone video). I don't know of anyone who's designed a proper screen reading experience yet, e.g. Google Fast Flip doesn't even fit a page onto my 1280x800 screen. Apple would likely do it properly. For a fascinating look at what a good tablet reader might be like, see this and be sure to watch the video there (which is apparently 8 minutes long but for me the time flew by).
And Apple's tablet (assuming that it does come along) will be followed by devices based on Google's Chrome OS, which takes a different approach but has the same idea of eliminating the visible operating system. 2010 will be an important year in the disappearance of the personal computer as we now know it.