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World-changer or iFlop?

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The intertubes were clogged today with fervid buzz and florid scuttlebutt about the impending arrival of every fanboi's object of unrequited technolust: the long-rumored but eternally-elusive Apple tablet/netbook/media-pad/ebook/whatever.

This latest spurt of speculation was engendered by an AppleInsider article that asserted: "Apple is now racing toward an early 2010 launch of a device that may see the electronics maker redefine the portable computing market for the second time in twice as many years."

The source of their certainty? "People well-respected...for their striking accuracy in Apple's internal affairs."

For AI's sake, we'll hope that those well-respected folks aren't the same ones who have been prophesying the imminent arrival of the aforementioned t/n/m/e/w on a rhythmically regular basis since 2002.

But the rhythm of that drumbeat of speculation has sped up recently, fueled by a stream of rumors gurgling out of Asian parts suppliers - including those ever-reliable Chinese moles - and no, not the hideously ugly burrowing kind.

While most Asian-inspired speculation has pointed toward a release of the t/n/m/e/w before the commencement of 2009's holiday commercialism frenzy, the most recent rumors - such as AI's and an earlier report by well-connected analyst Gene Munster - conjure an early-2010 manifestation of Steve Jobs's next world-changer.

And they may be right. Apple might be planning to use its seasonal cash rake to pull in one final holiday heap of non-touch iPod dollars before the traditional MP3-player niche de-niches, shrivels, and blows away on the winds of technochange.

But not every observer believes that the t/n/m/e/w will transform our lives into exaltations of technologically stimulated bliss. Over on TheStreet.com, for example, they're already calling it the "iFlop."

But AI and others see the t/n/m/e/w as a sea change in computing history. At Seeking Alpha, for example, Jason Schwartz bubbles that "The iTouch Tablet is about to change society as we know it."

No offense intended to Mr. Schwartz. I'm sure he's a fine young man, kind to his pets, and a whiz at Sudoku. But The Reg suggests that the t/n/m/e/w - if and when it might appear - will have an effect somewhere between causing Apple stock to plummet and convincing the Likud to fully implement the two-state solution.

Writing for The Mac Observer, John Martellaro takes a more-reasoned approach than those who equate the t/n/m/e/w with The Rapture. He argues - rather convincingly, we might add - that it might best be considered as Apple TV Take 3, by which he means the ideal device for "mobile youth [to] watch anything, anytime, anywhere," plus play games, read books, and video-chat.

Although The Reg subscribes religiously to cynical skepticism and has a more-ingrained "show me" streak than a rockbound Missourian, the stars do seem to be aligned for the emergence of a new Apple breakthrough.

The traditional iPod, for example, is understandably fading, "cannibalized" - as Apple's Tim Cook recently explained - by the iPod touch and iPhone. The iPhone itself has gone mainstream and is no longer wears the fiery halo of innovation it did when first exploding onto the scene.

Oh, the Mac? Simply a tool, a high-grade computing appliance.

It's time for something new - and the ridiculously successful iTunes App Store model of software control and distribution has paved the way for the next generation of media consumption.

The only mystery is whether the t/n/m/e/w will be released in October or January. That and what it will look like. ®

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