Tablet mania

Steve Jobs can’t even sigh without the rumour mill that has assembled itself around his brand speculating at what it could mean. This time the pseudo-media has decided that Fortune’s CEO of the decade and his company are about to launch a tablet device – and before the rumour was even confirmed there were articles decisively claiming what the product could and couldn’t do, specifying price – and one website even running a competition giving one away. Oh, and ridiculous Photoshop mockups are all over the place.

And all this for a device we know nothing about.

Well, that’s not entirely true. But we know very little at time of writing. Apple has booked a venue for an event in January at which they are expected to announce something. We have heard that the company has been working with 10.1″ capacitive touch-screens and at the last big Apple event Jobs said that they were working on “some amazing new products.” But those are the only hard facts we have to go on. The rest amounts to hearsay.

Some of it is compelling, however. It seems likely that Apple has been in negotiations with major publishing companies, suggesting that it intends to add the likes of books, magazines and newspapers to the iTunes store that already offers movies, TV shows, music and applications.

A chinese businessman has also claimed to have insight into the looming device – which he says is indeed a 10.1″ tablet.

But the big questions are yet to be answered. Does the device have a physical keyboard? Who is its intended market? And the all-important: how much will it cost?

It’s amazing to me that some journalists will dismiss a product that Apple has clearly poured tons of money into researching and developing. They somehow assume to know more about these things than the company that introduced the world to personal computing.

I’m not sure that I need a tablet device – but how could I when no one has even seen what the bloody thing looks like? For all we know it might emit a frequency of sound that attracts supermodels and has an application to instantly solve global warming.

It might be less of an ‘internet tablet’ in the vein of the iPod Touch and iPhone, and more of a tablet computer such as those that HP and Lenovo have been peddling for some time. Does it sport a hybrid e-ink display? Has Apple managed to get the publishing industry onboard? No one knows. And until they do it’s difficult to take any of the speculation seriously.

This time the rumour has gone further than just rampant speculation, however – it has spawned an industry. Google and HTC have confirmed a looming tablet device based on the Chrome OS operating system. The controversial Joojoo is already available and many more are on the way. If the industry has learned one thing in the last decade it has been that Apple stopped making mistakes when Steve returned. When Apple throws its weight behind a concept you can expect fireworks.

I sometimes wonder if Apple purposefully throws rumours out into the blogosphere and then waits for the market to decide what its future products should and shouldn’t do, pouring that information into actual development. But of course they don’t – Steve knows what you want and need, even if you don’t.

My prediction is that the device will indeed address a niche market. Apple does that sometimes – the Macbook Air isn’t much more than an impressive nice-to-have. No one needs it, but scores of people want it, and that’s good enough. I can’t imagine anything that would replace my current combination of 13″ Macbook and iPhone 3GS. But if anyone could imagine such a thing it would be Apple.

I'm a writer and broadcaster who also designs apps and strategies for disruptive startups in the financial world. Find out more on my about page.