Today, Apple is expected to unveil the worst-kept secret of the year: a tablet computer. Rumors have swirled for some time, but my sources tell me what everyone pretty much already knows: There Will Be a Tablet Computer from Apple.
The Baltimore Sun reports that Apple's been doing its usual hardball negotiating with potential content partners, setting prices for digital versions of books (with a generous percentage take for Apple). Others have talked about the possibilities that the tablet could offer for newspaper and magazine publishers. I'm not sure about the periodical publishers -- they (we) have been doing digital versions of our print publications for years, and millions of people already read entire digital magazines, HTML articles, or completely disaggregated bits from periodicals every day. Anyone who wants digital magazines and hates holding print magazines in their hands (it's so much work) has already discovered Zinio or Issuu. What a tablet will do that a laptop computer isn't already doing (or capable of doing) is not readily evident to me, and certainly doesn't qualify yet as a must-buy decision factor for a tablet computer. Print publishing will survive tablets, and publishers will probably find a way to make an additional revenue stream from the new devices. Fine and dandy.
But an Apple tablet will likely have its biggest effects in whatever combination of services and software are possible on a tablet (again, not sure how those differ from a touch-screen-equipped laptop, but whatever). As I've noted recently, to me the magic has always been in the combination of devices into one device, not the birthing of separate devices for each new use (good-bye, Kindle). Make a sleek, lightweight tablet with a touchscreen, voice-enable all of the input features, give it phone capabilities, internet access of course, a big hard drive for viewing movies and listening to audio and playing games, video/still camera, and all of the personal and office productivity software we use almost every day of our lives.
I suspect the Apple tablet will have much of that. And what it doesn't have now, it will in the future. (After all, the computer became the television, your cable provider became your phone and internet provider, your cell phone became your e-mail service and video camera, so why shouldn't your tablet also become a phone?)
Much of the technology reporting has for years been hyper-hype filled, and that is especially true about reporting on Apple products. Hey, I love Apple products. I have two iPods, large-screen Macs at work and at home, and I'm sure I'll buy an iTablet (or whatever it's called) as soon as my finances permit. But not every iteration of iLife is revolutionary. Not each upgrade of the iPhone is a breakthrough.
And if you look over the years at what computers have been able to do (note the 1981 magazine cover above) and each evolutionary leap that has been made due to increasing processor power and ever-more interconnectedness of hardware and data, you see that the whole thing is evolutionary. Steve Jobs is a genius for seeing the opportunities that are thus presented and for pushing his company to go there. (And Apple is not infallible; it just seems that way. Anyone remember the Newton?) But Jobs is not creating these things out of thin air. He is able to look at where the technology goes, what new features and programs and businesses can be enabled by where the technology is evolving, and he's then going there with style and quality.
Others could do the same thing, but I think the modern public corporation is not designed to think in such a way.