The Macalope Weekly Special Edition: Apple's mythical tablet

The world of Apple rumors is a magical place, full of fantastic flights of fancy and devoid of any responsibility for the wild predictions of yesteryear that never came to be.

Take the tablet.

The coming of an Apple tablet has been rumored since the death of the Newton. Talk to anyone versed in Apple lore, and they’ll tell you one’s just around the corner. Not only that, they’ll probably tell you what it’ll be like.

The Macalope doesn’t know any better than the rest of these yahoos what it will be, but who better to talk about a mythical device than a mythical beast?

Predictimacating is tough!

Apple tablet fever has been with us for ten years or more, but the current virulent strain of the virus was started by those little laptops that can’t, the netbooks.

About a year ago, netbooks were the darlings of the technology world. Low cost, low power, cramped keyboards, limited expansion—what’s not to love? When the typical bargain-basement PC vendors started selling these things by the truckload, technology pundits said Apple must ship one now or face utter, extreme annihilation! To the max!

Fortunately, Apple doesn’t listen to those who get paid by the ad impression.

After it became clear the company was having nothing to do with an ill-defined, low-margin product category (go figure!), attention turned to how an Apple tablet might compete against netbooks. To hit the sweet spot of a price point and level of processing power between an iPhone and a MacBook, a tablet was surely the answer.

Now that everyone is set on what Apple will be unveiling, all that’s left to do is wildly guess at the specs.

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Some say it’ll come in two sizes, others that it’ll feature ubiquitous wireless via Verizon. It’ll be here two months ago, or maybe not for a year.

eWeek’s Don Reisinger provided a handy list of reasons not to buy an Apple tablet.

Will the product be nice looking? Of course. Will it have neat features? Sure. But it’s still a tablet. And by their very nature, tablets just aren’t ideal for many users, especially more sophisticated users.

“I have seen other tablets and therefore this thing we haven’t seen that we’re calling a tablet must be the same.” Reisinger is apparently not that familiar with Plato’s allegory of the cave.

PC World’s Michael Scalisi declared the Apple tablet “a train wreck.” Really. He said that.

Rob Enderle believes the JooJoo (née the Crunchpad, the device that’s now the subject of a lawsuit between Michael Arrington and hardware developer Fusion Garage) will “critically savage the Apple tablet.”

So, we don’t even have an Apple tablet yet and we’ve already got an Apple tablet killer. Congratulations to Rob, who wins a free set of steak knives for that one.

But this is all very familiar. Harken, if you will, back to three years ago. According to almost everyone, Apple was on the verge of introducing an “Ai-fone” and, if you recall, we knew exactly what it was going to be like.

Yes, the Macalope remembers it as if it were just three years ago. In order to maintain control, Apple would launch its own cellular service which…

What? No, no, that’s not right! The “Ai-fone” was going to be sold unlocked!

You’re high! It was going to be VoIP!

And so on.

Based on all this rock-solid evidence, the technopunditocracy leaped into action. CNet’s Michael Kanellos predicted the iPhone would fail. Two months before it was announced, Silicon.com’s Jo Best said she wouldn’t be buying one because it would have bad battery life and blah blah blah. This thing no one had seen.

David Pogue was actively splashing icy cold water from the Hudson on iPhone rumors, implying it was unlikely because:

I cannot imagine Apple giving veto power to ANYONE over its software design. It just ain’t gonna happen.

Turns out he was right and wrong both in the same sentence—Apple wasn’t going to do that, but it was still releasing a phone.

The problem with all these predictions is that no one was thinking big enough. “Ha-ha!” they laughed. “The cell phone industry is a mature market! What could Apple possibly have to offer?!” And now, three years later, the only thing people can point to that might stop the iPhone is the Google phone, which looks startlingly like an iPhone.

Reading tea leaves through the bag

What is the tablet going to be? The Macalope's not going to tell you he knows anything more than the Marvel Team-Up of Jack Bauer and Bo Diddley would about what it really will look like, but he's willing to take a few educated guesses.

The problem with every other attempt to make a tablet over the last ten years is they’ve largely just been Windows on a computer without a keyboard. Who wants that? So, rather than running Mac OS X, you’d think it would run the iPhone OS. (Please, though, Apple, leave the App Store out of the mix.)

And it will have a hook. The Macalope has been saying since spring that the tablet, if and when it appears, will have some differentiator that makes it a compelling purchase. The iPod replaced your CD collection, the Apple TV would like to replace your DVD collection (but you won’t buy one), and the iPhone, obviously, replaced your cell phone. The tablet (insert caveat about its existential dilemma) will turn another industry on its head. The problem with the JooJoo is that it has no hook, no ecosystem. It doesn’t act as a compelling replacement for anything you have.

One of the leading bets is that the Apple tablet will replace your newspapers, magazines and books. The rumor mill has Apple working with the New York Times and book publishers to put content on the thing, and this demo by Sports Illustrated looks like an audition.

This is all kind of funny because if you remember how we got to the current spate of rumors it was “Apple needs to build a netbook!”, not “Apple needs to build a Kindle!” But Apple likes to stir up trouble, and you can bet that a year after it introduces a tablet, someone’s going to be feeling the pain and delight of its effects.

Of course, one would imagine an Apple tablet will look at least something like you imagine—a flat-faced, multitouch-driven device—in the same way an iPhone or iPod touch are little tablets. And like the iPhone and iPod, it would play music and movies.

But it’s important to remember that for every true rumor out there, there are five false ones and, most importantly, three things that no one’s even imagined. As a mythical beast, the Macalope knows a thing or two about oracles, and they’re mostly drama queens hopped up on natural gas. Don’t take anyone’s word for what an Apple tablet might be, including this pointy prognosticator.

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