Did the New York Times just reveal an 'impending Apple slate'?

Probably not. But rumors persist of an Apple tablet, or iPad, or slate, or whatever the title du jour is today.

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Apple fans had a collective "I knew it!" moment yesterday as news trickled out that New York Times executive editor Bill Keller referred to an "impending Apple slate."

Those three words, which many took to mean Apple's long-rumored tablet computer, came from an internal Times speech that the Nieman Journalism Lab broadcasted over the Internet. (Check out the video below.) Online speculation soon said that the Times must have inside information regarding such a tablet – whether it exists or not – and that the paper is probably working directly with Apple.

Like most Apple gossip, such analysis probably sees more than is actually there.

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Here's the actual line. Near the end of Keller's talk, he spoke about the importance of offering NYTimes articles on mobile devices: "We need to figure out the right journalistic product to deliver to mobile platforms and devices," he said. "I’m hoping we can get the newsroom more actively involved in the challenge of delivering our best journalism in the form of Times Reader, iPhone apps, WAP, or the impending Apple slate, or whatever comes after that."

Blog headlines quickly declared:
Bill Keller: Apple Tablet 'Impending'
Press Can't Keep Apple Tablet Secret
Apple Tablet launching "impending" according to NYT exec

But did Keller actually say anything surprising? Peter Kafka of All Things D put it best:

The Times, like every other big publisher, assumes Apple (AAPL) is working on a tablet, and would like to figure out how to get its stuff onto the device. But I assumed that the Times, like every other big publisher, hadn’t had any contact with the famously secretive company about its plans. That is – Keller could have said “the Apple slate, or tablet, or whatever, that I believe the company is working on, but don’t know about firsthand”, but whittled that down to three words. Because he’s good at writing and words and stuff like that, the way you’d think the guy running America’s newspaper of record would be.

Just to be sure, Kafka called Keller to ask if he had any inside information.

His answer, delivered via a PR rep: “I ain’t sayin’”.

Some rumors are too fun to die.

So, what do we know about this supposed Apple tablet? Little, really. The Financial Times reported that it could hit in September (guess not) and feature “new services such as interactive booklets and liner notes” as a way to re-invigorate music album sales. Now, it sounds like they were actually reporting on the iTunes LP service that recently came out.

Then, an online survey by book retailer Borders referred directly to an “Apple iPAD (large-screen reading device)” as if the gadget already existed. The company wouldn’t say if that was corporate forecasting, based on insider information, or just them having a bit of fun.

Let's not forget California’s Jax at the Tracks, which was the site of a closed Apple advertising shoot, proprietor Bud Haley told the Sierra Sun. “Apple found us, they’re trying to show us as a hip and cool spot for the 20-something crowd,” he said. Again, just a rumor.

Apple sure has a way of stoking interest in phantoms – even when they're not the ones doing it.

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