Jan. 23, 2010
The wait could soon be over: on Wednesday the technology world expects Apple to reveal its iSlate - a highly anticipated piece of technology that could do for tablet computers what the original iPod did for digital music players and the iPhone did for smart phones.
For months speculators have agonized over whether the device existed and, if so, what it would be, how it would work and how much it would cost. Rumors of the iSlate's possible features - from gadget blogs, Apple rumor sites and news services citing anonymous sources - add up to what sounds like a juiced-up, over-sized iPhone: a 10.1-inch multitouch screen, video conferencing, cellular wireless connectivity, 3-D graphics and virtual keyboard.
Even the month and price of the device were leaked earlier this month. The Wall Street Journal wrote Apple's tablet will go on sale in March and cost $1,000, according to its anonymous sources.
Most experts guess this iSlate, if that is the name Apple goes with, will run the same touch-based operating system that makes the iPhone and Touch popular, so all the apps available for those devices will work on the new tablet. Wi-Fi, digital music downloads, gaming and Amazon Kindle-like electronic reading features are also swirling in the speculation.
Some geeks surely salivate over the possible new hardware, and publishers are dreaming of selling their books, magazines and newspapers via an online store to the device. But are everyday people ready to spend a $1,000 on a tablet, even if it is all Apply-lovely?
"I'm sure it will be cool, and I am sure I will get it eventually," said John Sider, a graphic designer from Milwaukee who ducked into the Apple Store at Bayshore a couple of weeks ago. "I'm going to save my tax refund for it and hope that it's enough."
Sider agrees it's a harder sell considering he already owns an iPhone and a Macbook Pro. He struggled to specifically say how he would use an Apple tablet over his Macbook, although it might be useful for taking notes in a meeting, presentations and casual reading, he said.
Brian Sweeney, a student taking online classes, said he'd love an Apple tablet if he could download cheap textbooks to it. He's underwhelmed with e-book readers such as Amazon's various Kindles and Barnes & Noble's Nook. A nice, easy-to-read, easier-to-use electronic reader with lots of multimedia features would be tempting as long as the prices at the digital bookstore attached to it are cheap.
"What I'd really like to see is an e-bookstore that sticks it to publishers like iTunes sticks it to the labels," Sweeney said, noting he thinks the technology used to prevent sharing downloaded content are obnoxious.
Publishers are allegedly lining up to sell their wares on an Apple tablet. Last week The Wall Street Journal - again citing anonymous sources - wrote that HarperCollins is bargaining a deal with Apple that would make electronic books available for the tablet. According to a story last week in New York Magazine, in preparing to charge readers for access to stories online, The New York Times is working out a content deal for Apple's tablet, too. And Apple is reportedly shopping the tablet to media companies in Australia to gauge interest in having their content sold on the device, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Could revelations from smaller publishers be far behind?
Still, in a technology culture already jammed-crammed with smart phones, e-book readers, netbooks and laptops, it's fair to wonder where tablets fit in, even if the latest entry is from Apple, which has revolutionized modern mobile electronics. Tablet computers have been around for years and failed to be a runaway success. And what will be the "killer app," turbo-boosting an Apple tablet over niche e-readers, cheap laptops and even cheaper netbooks?
"When it's all said and done I don't need a tablet whether it comes from Apple or anyone else even if I might want one," Sweeney said, noting he could think of a dozen other things he'd rather spend the money on. "And I don't think many people do."
But, considering Apple's recent track record, it's hard to bet against its tablet.
"You will buy it, you will all buy it," Mike Harris said only half jokingly outside the Apple Store at Mayfair. "The tablet is going to change everything. It will be brilliant. It will be good."
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