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Apple Tablet: who is it a prescription for and other questions

Not a single official word from Apple on the ‘Apple Tablet’, but speculations are rife. They span the entire spectrum – wild rumours, ‘obviously fake’ documents, business projections, feature predictions and much more. The debate over what it is and it’s probability of success is heated. The pattern is uncannily similar to the rumours prior to the iPhone launch in 2007.

Like with every major Apple product launch, the publicity generated through unpaid media and social networks is simply unbelievable. Fans, tech experts, business gurus, the general public, Apple haters – all pitch in with their bits about the imminent launch. Among the tech experts and gurus there are two distinct kinds: the rabble rousers and the crystal ball gazers. The former, typically write a controversial headline (‘why I think the Apple Tablet is doomed’ kind of stuff ), make wild predictions that is meant to generate traffic and heated debate. And there are the business & tech gurus, who give high level conceptual stuff about how the market will shape up in the next 2 years, the features, the tech specs – all with an air of ‘I told you so first’. It’s all a game with a tally board lined up after the actual product announcement.

This kind of hype leads to a perception – especially among Apple haters – that Apple is a master of marketing hype and the clamour for their products is only because of this. Not true at all. It’s because of the obsessive focus on the product and nothing else. All else follows from what the product is. And when it comes to major product launches, no company is as secretive as Apple. They may make the odd, strategic press release but all the participation in the pre-launch conversation is consumer centric. Consumers volunatrily debate, promote these products which conventional media then picks up.

As far as the Apple Tablet goes, I guess Apple would have asked all the right questions to themselves (and hopefully have the answers too!):

What is the real purpose of the Apple Tablet? What is it supposed to do?: I don’t think it will merely be another e-book reader. Steve Jobs is reported to have asked, in essence, what they were good for ‘besides surfing the Web in the bathroom‘. It is reported to offer a rich media experience while reading magazines, but Apple would definitely define it in more specific but broader terms. The iPhone was not pitched as an ‘iPod that could make calls’ – it ‘reinvented the phone’.  The scaling to a higher order benefit was bang on. It was pitched as 3-in-1: a revolutionary mobile phone, a wide-screen iPod and a Breakthrough Internet Communications Device. Similarly, I would imagine that the Apple Tablet would be pitched to offer a higher order benefit. A revolutionary personal entertainment device? Perhaps.

What does it do that others cannot? Or what does it do better than others?: what can it do better than Amazon Kindle? What can it offer that others cannot as of now? 3D interface? Connectivity to a cell phone network over and above the Wi-Fi?. My guess (now I am imitating the pundits) is that it will be a cross between a Macbook & an iPod.

Who is it meant for?: if you already have an iPhone and a laptop, what would motivate you to carry one more gadget? I don’t think lugging it around is an issue – if consumers see merit in it, packing another sleek device in your laptop bag shouldn’t be an issue. Interactivity, rich media content is every where – there is a certain breed of consumers who are no longer used to spending an hour reading the newspaper (y’know solving crossword, reading the comics etc.) or curling up with their favourite book. Almost every media they consume has an interactive element to it – and richer the better.

What will consumers be willing to pay for it?: Ah, the million dollar question. Or as some reports suggest a $1000 question.

All will be revealed (hopefully) on Jan 27 (the launch date, according to AllThingsD). Till then, brace up for more speculation.

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