It seems as if once everyone's Christmas shopping was done they started seeding the desire for the next thing. It's a good strategy: don't risk Christmas sales now for the upcoming products. They kept an airtight lid on everything tablet until Christmas Eve, when we learned that Apple reserved the Yerba Buena center for January 26th, Steve Jobs was "very pleased" with the tablet, that interacting with it was "shocking", that Apple has patented methods of deforming a smooth surface to add key edges, depressions, and malleable zones, and that Apple acquired a domain called iSlate.
This is an incredible torrent of information released in a 24 hour period after a product has been shrouded in secrecy for years. All this gets people thinking of the next big thing which could be theirs in a few short months.
Opinions range as to the function of tablet (as well as its size and other specifications). The most common applications noted are ebook / newspaper reading, video and audio (particularly using the new iTunesLP software), internet browsing, movie/TV rentals or subscriptions, and video chat. A popular postulation is that the tablet will use a combined e-ink and lcd display (such as the one Pixel-Qi is producing). Many believe it will run the iPhone operating system with some enhancements to allow for larger screen size, multitasking, and other uses. Others contend it will lean more towards Mac OS X or a hybrid between them.
Many industry analysts have predicted that the tablet will fall into a "slot" in the Apple lineup that is between the Mac Mini and the MacBook. The pricing tiers for the Mini are $599 and $799 while the MacBook starts at $999. That leaves $699 and $899 openings for a new product. Conceivably the Mini price could change (lower) to free up $599 or $799 as well, so there is some flexibility in the price tier.
Estimates for sales of the device are already in (with nary a look at an actual device!) and hover around one to two million devices a year.
So, with almost no official information we've got the name, size, uses, price, introduction date, innovative user interface elements, and sales nailed down. Or completely up in the air. The fact is that we don't know many of these things for sure and are extrapolating from existing information with a dash of our own desires.
While I feel the same sense of excitement about the forthcoming product I'm anticipating something more than just a cool tablet device. I believe that Apple is entering a new phase of its product platform and will add tablets to the line with a range of models. I see the existing product line looking something like this:
iPhone (and iPod touch)
MacBook (White, Air, Pro)
Desktop (Mini, iMac, Mac Pro)
I think we'll see a new entry in this table for tablets between iPhone and MacBook. I think tablets will be an entire product category on par with the others rather than an accessory device. Much like laptops used to be considered the portable, low-powered version of a desktop machine and have morphed into the standard computer, I think we'll see tablets take on a role as a different sort of portable device. I mentioned in an earlier post that Apple's iMac is seeing resurgent sales partly because people that recently bought netbooks and were ready to upgrade their main computer are opting for desktop machines rather than laptops. I think this effect will carry forward with the tablet devices. Some competition with the existing product line is inevitable.
The big question is if this device category can pull in new users or will it leech off of existing Mac and iPhone users. iPod and iPhone both reached out to non-Mac users and drew them into the Apple ecosystem, leading to increased Mac sales as well as device and iTunes sales.