I'm as interested as anyone in seeing the tablet-type product Apple is expected to introduce on Jan. 27. But there is one thing I am especially curious to find out: Will people feel they really need an Apple tablet?
Apple will not be the first computer maker to introduce a tablet. Indeed, the iPod was not the first digital music player and the iPhone was not the first smartphone. Yet both products were game changers, and that is the issue I keep thinking about in regards to an Apple tablet: Will it change an industry?
I'm dubious, but I reserve the right to enthusiastically lust after one -- whatever it may look like.
An Apple tablet, as reported by news outlets ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the Apple Insider, is expected to be a multimedia powerhouse that plays TV shows and movies; functions as an e-reader for magazines, books and newspapers; and will operate via touch in a manner familiar to iPhone owners (although there's buzz a learning curve may be needed, unusual for Apple).
Also, it is expected to capture content in new ways, such as offer videos with author commentaries to accompany an e-book purchase. A virtual keyboard will be built-in -- perhaps with a technology that will make the keys feel raised -- and the screen will be 10 or 11 inches, measured diagonally. Like the iPhone and iPod touch, it is expected to be an app powerhouse, making it a bigger and bolder platform for a trend that is changing how people design and use software.
The price? Estimates range from $700 to $1,000.
All of that is pretty interesting but will we really need an Apple tablet? Sure, lust will be a huge factor as it often is with Apple products and the iHype for a tablet has been breathtaking. That obviously speaks to the brilliance of Steve Jobs as a pitchman and Apple's reputation as a maker of desirable gadgets.
But really, will Apple's tablet compel you to watch TV on a screen the same size as your laptop's and not that 42-inch high-def beauty hanging from your living room wall? Perhaps if you're a road warrior but will you want to schlep it in your briefcase along with a laptop?
Will it be better for reading e-books -- and as easy to buy content -- than the very fine Kindle? And if the tablet is an app machine like the iPhone and iPod touch, will Apple allow book-reading apps to play? The Kindle iPhone app is an excellent companion to the Kindle and it would certainly be optimized to take advantage of the tablet's new capabilities. If Apple is positioning a tablet as an alternative to the Kindle (plus Barnes & Noble's new Nook, Sony's Reader line-up and a bunch of others), how will it treat the competing book-reading apps it already allows for the iPhone?
Amazon isn't waiting to find out, as the Kindle has been opened to third-party developers.
Again, I'm quite excited to see this new Apple product. But based on what we know right now -- or at least what we think we know -- I don't see it as a game changer. I think it will be ultimately viewed as laptop alternative Mac fans will adore.
On the other hand, an Apple tablet may become the sexy status symbol its heritage suggests, proving that whether we need one or not, we all will want one.