iSlate or iGuide? Tablet or ebook reader? Apple has many guessing.

Web sleuthing has turned up some details on what Apple will unveil late next month, but really, no one has any idea what's up Steve Jobs' sleeve.

Punxsutawney Phil, the famous Groundhog, makes his annual weather prognostication about the end of winter in this February 2007 photo. Apple rumors are often about as reliable as Phil's predictions, and the buzz around the iSlate is no different.

Well, it's almost the new year, and that means it's almost time for the latest round of Apple rumors to see their shadow or lumber back into hibernation until June.

Will the world finally get an Apple tablet, the long-predicted, heavily vaunted answer to a million fanboys' prayers? "iTablet" buzz has already sent Apple's stock price to an all-time high, but let's take a look at what's "known" and see if we can find any facts.


Apple has rented space at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for a special event in late January, according to a Financial Times report. Similar events have been used to show off the latest updates to Apple products, including this year's iPod Nano refresh that added a tiny video camera to the svelte music player. The original iPhone was previewed at a Macworld keynote speech by CEO Steve Jobs in January 2007, six months before it became available, probably because the company wanted to formally introduce it itself, before its existence was made public in FCC tests. Could the block of time Apple's reserved at Yerba Buena in January be for a similar preview gathering?


Apple has reportedly placed orders for a whole bunch of 10-inch displays, according to Taiwanese tech rumor site Digitimes. And AppleInsider reports that a similar order for corresponding tablet PC display connectors was placed with another manufacturer. No current Apple product uses a display of that size, so signs point to a new product – but what kind exactly remains unclear. In an October meeting with staffers, (a video of which got leaked to the Web) New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller casually mentioned an "impending Apple slate." But was that insider information or just forward-looking speculation by an industry leader who wants to stay on top? Flying in the face of popularly accepted hypotheses, tech news site QuickPWN insists the iSlate, or whatever it's going to be called, is going to be a Kindle-slaying ebook reader, and not a tablet PC, citing anonymous sources.


The and URLs have reportedly been purchased and registered by Apple-backed corporations, according to reports from Mac Rumors and Tech Crunch. Some are saying that iSlate will be the name of the device, and iGuide the name of a related app store. Wired has a pretty thorough rundown of the how and what of the naming theory, but the URL registration occurred back in 2007 – could Apple just have been snapping up "i" names to cover its bases for future products?


Apple product prognosticating is as risky a tech task as they come. In a lengthy trip down memory lane, PC World's Harry McCracken looks back at the tech press's predictions ahead of the original iPhone's launch. Of the handful of articles he excerpts, none gets the iPhone exactly right, and some, like the one from Digg's Kevin Rose, are so spectacularly off-course that they're laughable to read today. The lesson, McCracken says, is not to assume anything: Don't assume that a new Apple product will be based on its predecessors. Don't assume that pricepoints and distribution channel predictions hold any water. Don't take speculation for fact, even if it comes from some high-priced industry analyst. Above all, allow for the possibility that a new product – from Apple or anyone – packs innovations that no one's guessing at.

What's our take-home message? We appear to have a few pieces to a puzzle, some seemingly well-defined, others a little amorphous, and still others completely stretching plausibility. The thing we definitely don't have, try as the tech press might, is the box the puzzle came in. In other words, we might all be thinking we're making a picture of a bunny – er, tablet – but what we're really getting is a netbook. Or a groundhog.


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