On the Mythical Apple Tablet

AppleInsider has once again stirred up the rumors surrounding the Apple tablet:

It seems like a long time coming. Nearly two years have past since AppleInsider exclusively reported in September of 2007 that Apple’s next big product initiative would be a modern day reincarnation of its beloved-but-defunct Newton MessagePad. And it’s believed the device had been slowly evolving as an R&D project for at least a year prior.

The 10-inch, 3G-enabled tablet, akin to a jumbo iPod touch, is the latest brainchild of chief executive Steve Jobs. That distinction, as insiders will tell you, carries its share of baggage. Under the critical eye of Jobs, contours must be precise, each pixel of the interface has to match a particular vision, and there can be no fault — no matter how slight — or it’s back to the drawing board.

As such, AppleInsider has observed silently as the project was reset at least a half-dozen times over the past 24 months. Each time, development was frozen and key aspects of the device rethought, retooled and repositioned. At times, those close to the Apple co-founder had their doubts that it would ever see the light of day, just like a smaller PDA device he canned a few years after returning to the company.

However, the past six months have reportedly seen the critical pieces fall into place. Jobs, who’s been overseeing the project from his home, office and hospital beds, has finally achieved that much-sought aura of satisfaction. He’s since cemented the device in the company’s 2010 roadmap, where it’s being positioned for a first quarter launch, according to people well-respected by AppleInsider for their striking accuracy in Apple’s internal affairs.

In the past, my biggest issue with the Apple tablet rumor was with the potential market for the product. Tablet PCs have never really taken off outside of a few specific niches. It boiled down to this: the average user doesn’t want or need a tablet PC, so why would Apple make one?

If Apple does something new, it makes sure it can do it well. That’s why Apple is late to many markets, such as the MP3 player and smartphone markets. Yes, Apple was late to the scene, and yes, they’re kicking everyone else’s ass. The tablet market is ripe for overhaul, and in the last year, the potential hang-ups for an Apple tablet have been addressed in two ways: iPhone OS 3.0 and the App Store.

Instead of thinking about an Apple tablet as a smaller, touch-based Mac, it makes more sense to think of it as a larger, more versatile iPod touch. The iPhone OS has evolved so much that it is closer to a computer OS now more than ever. I already find myself — as many users do — taking my iPhone with me to meetings and other events where I would have taken my MacBook before for notes, task management, email and more. With features like copy and paste, search and an ever-present Internet connection, there are very few things I can’t do with my iPhone easily, and that number is shrinking.

And then there’s the App Store. While part of me would love to see the Apple tablet run Mac OS X applications, the reality is that it will more than likely only run App Store apps. Which is fine, given the massive number of them available. Having an additional device to run those applications will only dump more fuel on the fire.

If — or when, if AppleInsider is correct — Apple announces a tablet, it will further blur the line between notebooks and mobile devices… maybe even redefine them. That’s right up the company’s alley.