Now that Apple has officially sent out invitations to various members of the media to "Come see our latest creation" next week, January 27th, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, let us consider what exactly that creation will be.
iTablet, iSlate, uSlate, whatever the name affixed to the device will be Apple will most certainly be rolling out a tablet-sized mobile computing device. For the most part I agree with tech-writer Andy Ihnatko in terms of the devices hardware configuration, will have data access via WiFi and cellular, 10'' multitouch screen, a solid state drive (SSD) - but I think it will be of a larger capacity than 32 GB), et al.
I also agree, for the most part, on Andy's comments about functionality. The UI will be designed for the issues of carrying and working with a 10'' slab of computing hardware - on the go - "Think about how a user interface would have to incorporate those observations. Now imagine that you've been doing this experiment for four years and not four minutes. That's a very long list of observations. If you didn't come up with a workable solution, don't worry: I think Apple has", after all Apple has been applying for a number of patents over the years on this very issue.
From Patently Apple's Apple: The Tablet Prophecies
Ok fine, but what exactly will it do? What will you need it for?
Well, I'm glad you asked, because those are very important questions, as AppleInsider recently noted. In the long history of hand-held sized computing, there is a very short list of market-wins, PDAs, such as the Palm Pilot, MP3 devices such as the iPod and smartphones, such as the Blackberry.
That is it.
Apple's Newton was an amazing technology for the time, but was oversized and overpriced as a personal organizer. Microsoft's Tablet PC never really got the third-party software support it need for the form factor to find a home1 and as AppleInsider recounts history's trash-bin is littered with companies and devices that never even made it that far into the public conciseness.
So as history as our guide, for it to make its way in the world, Apple's iTablet will need to definitely answer the question, what can I use it for?
Well let us consider the key feature of Apple's other hand-held devices:
iPod is for Entertainment - First for music on the go, followed by video on the go (watching video first, now watching and shooting video) and games (with the iPod Touch)
iPhone is for Communication - Yes of course there is an App for that, but even before the App store the iPhone was about communication: Voice, Text (Email, SMS) and Web
So the iTablet will be about ... Productivity!
But wait, I hear, what about those rumors about print publication and eReaders? And, I hear you say you already have a mobile device for productivity, your laptop?
Why yes, a laptop is for productivity on the go, and Apple is looking to redefine what a mobile productivity device is.
Consider, what are the problems with using a laptop? It's heavy and cumbersome to carry, doesn't have access to cellular networks by default and it takes a long time to start up and be, well productive.
An iPhone on the only hand is always on, not just always turned on, but always connected. Your on the road, you get an important email and presto, your at work.
But wait, that email has an attachment, and 10 sheet spreadsheet and oh, bother this graph is completely wrong and oh, look the formula is off and, well guess you'll have to boot up your latptop now while you wait for your airplane. Good luck finding a power outlet that hasn't already be staked out by some other traveler.
But if you take the strengths of the laptop with that of the iPhone, well you get one hell of a productive device.
This is nothing short of revolution! This is, after all, Steve Jobs' Apple!
Oh and that eReader stuff, that will just be some App available in the App store. After all the iPhone was not only built on the success of the iPod, but incorporated the iPod's key functionality as a secondary feature. The iTablet's secondary feature, you'll be able to purchase and run third-party iPhone and iTablet-specific apps too.
In The Pudding
Granted this is speculation, my interpenetration of the various rumors that have been circulating over the years.
If your looking for proof of this interpretation, I can't offer you any, at the moment. I can however point to two interesting side rumors, that Apple has been working on a new, web-based version of their productivity suite iWork and that they recently contracted to build a new data center in North Carolina to support growing web-based "cloud computing".
Oh, and recall that Apple has recently reduce the number of laptops it sells.
That and of course Google's netbook running Chrome and their web-based Google Docs suite and well, if Apple announces a new, distributed version of iWorks next week alongside their shinny new tablet, I say, there is your proof that things are about to get very interesting...
1 Not wishing to give up on anything, Microsoft, at CES, released alongside HP their "Slate PC", which represents - I suppose on how and what your counting - Microsoft's third attempt at tablet-like computing. Once upon a time the knock on Microsoft was they needed three revision to get something right - think Windows 3.1 - for marketplace success. So I suppose one should keep an eye on their Microsoft now...