Never in the history of the computer industry has a product launch been this hyped. Not even Apple’s launch of the iPhone in 2007, or Microsoft’s launch of the Windows 95 operating system 15 years ago, garnered as much fevered speculation and anticipation as today’s launch by Apple CEO Steve Jobs of a tablet computer.
For months, blogs and even the mainstream media have been carrying increasingly speculative and sometimes wild articles about how Jobs is going to reinvent the publishing industry — or even save it from an otherwise certain death.
What’s remarkable about all this is that Apple has said not a word about its plans. True to form, Jobs hasn’t whispered a thing to anyone in the media about what he has up his sleeve. And those Apple has spoken to, such as publishers and electronics manufacturers, have said nary a word.
It’s even possible, though highly unlikely, that Apple isn’t planning to announce a tablet computer at all.
Imagine the look on tech journalists’ faces if he got on stage at the press conference in San Francisco today and announced not a tablet but something altogether less interesting, like new software for the iPhone, or a new range of MacBook computers.
It would be amusing. But it’s not going to happen. Some sort of tablet-computing device is inevitable. If a tablet wasn’t on the cards, Apple would have quietly managed expectations to avoid a collapse in its share price. Apple stock is up 140% in the past 12 months, driven higher in part over the speculation about the tablet.
Though bits and pieces of information have leaked out in recent weeks — most notably Apple’s discussions with book publishers such as HarperCollins and McGraw-Hill — it’s remarkable how little we actually know about Apple’s tablet just hours before its launch.
Informed speculation — and speculation is all it is — suggests that the tablet will be called the iSlate, the iTablet or the iBook (of those, I personally like iBook best). It will also have a 10-inch touch screen, if the pundits are to be believed.
It will act as a multimedia player — you’ll be able to listen to music and watch movies on it — and as an e-book reader.
From there, the speculation gets less informed. Some websites have suggested the tablet will be a gaming device first and foremost. That’s interesting speculation given that Apple has never really been a force in the gaming market, except obliquely with the iPhone.
Much of the pre-release excitement has focused on what the tablet could mean for the future of books and newspapers. Reports on Tuesday suggested that Apple had inked a deal with US bookseller Barnes & Noble. This could give Apple access to as many as 1m electronic books at launch.
Newspaper publishers are also going to be watching the Jobs keynote with a great deal of interest. In the US, in particular, newspaper groups are desperate to stem the rout in circulation. Could Jobs’s tablet be a ray of light amid the deepening gloom? A report in the Los Angeles Times says developers from The New York Times have been camped out at Apple’s head office for several weeks.
I suspect a lot of the focus during the keynote will be on how users will interact with the new tablet. It seems unlikely that it will have a tactile keyboard, so one assumes that Apple has developed a new way of using finger gestures to control the device. Some advanced version of the multi-touch system used on the iPhone seems likely. The device will probably also run a version of the iPhone operating system, rather than a scaled-down version of the Mac OS X that runs on Apple’s computer products.
No-one knows how much it will cost, though most bets seem to be in the US$700 to $1 000 range. Of course, if the tablet has 3G connectivity, it may be subsidised by mobile carriers. And when will it launch? Possibly as early as March, though it’s all guesswork for now. And who really knows how long it will take to reach SA shores!
We’ll know the details tonight (SA time) when Jobs, undoubtedly dressed in his trademark black polo neck and blue jeans, ascends the stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and tries to live up the enormous hype that’s been created ahead the event. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral
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- Steve Jobs image credit: Acaben