In one of the increasingly un-secretish and badly-kept secrets that Apple used to be so good at, the world’s internet media has been double guessing what Apple’s “Media Event” on 27 January (our Thursday 28th) will be unveiling. Yes, I know, we’re a Wellington architecture and urban design blog, but who doesn’t like a juicy fresh apple? And besides, sometimes you just want to break out a little.

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched sea-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate – all those moments will be lost in time – like tears in rain… time to die…”

I enjoy a good Steve Jobs unveiling – he has recently won the CEO of the Decade award, on a salary of just $1 a year – plus healthy stock options (if only we could get corporate banker CEOs to accept that line) taking Apple from a so-called basket case in the 90s to its pre-eminent position as the leading design brand in the world, and the leading stock to buy over the last decade: he’s a leader who knows where and what he’s doing. I’m still at a loss as to why the rest of the world keeps buying non-apple products: or why the computer bods at work make us use PCs. But there is certainly some excitement amongst the mac fan-boys at the prospect of what is coming next.

(Artist’s impression only. No one is yet saying what it will look like)

A post on the influential Macrumors website on the last day of 2009 has racked up an incredible 1200+ comments on what exactly the exciting new release may be. 1200 comments! That’s almost a year’s worth of comments for us here at the Fish…. but the curious thing is that they’re all just guesses. Incredibly well-informed guesses mind you. But guesses just the same: Apple keep their staff’s lips well sealed. For your delectation, I include some of the current guesses at the end of the post. But first, a re-cap.

Once upon a time Apple just made computers, and computer accessories like printers. Since 1984 with the birth of the Macintosh (a type of apple), the company has arguably led the world ever since, being always a step or two ahead of the behemoth of Redmond. “Start your photocopiers” indeed, as Apple once cheekily trumpeted to Microsoft. Jobs was removed from the company and then was returned, and it has gone from strength to strength since then. You know all this, don’t you? But then, it changed. Apple moved their computing power and design prowess into the field of music and entertainment.

During 2000, spotty-faced boys used crappy little music devices called MP-3 players to listen to their music. The market was saturated with brands of varying ugliness and clunkiness, and the world didn’t think we needed another. But then Apple came along and stole the show: they now ‘own’ the market, with over 85% market share of MP3 players, with their giant killer, the iPod. But it wasn’t always popularly perceived. Comments at the time just before its release in October 2001, said things like:

MacRumors: “Mike Ryder wrote in to tell us of a Yahoo News article describing “the
unveiling of a breakthrough digital device,” by Apple on Oct. 23. And according to Apple, “hint: it’s not a Mac.” Very interesting. Sources near the company claim it’s likely a digital music device. Portable MP3 player? Component CD-RW / MP3 player? Quite the intriguing report.”

Doraemon: “Does anyone know the codename of this “new digital device”?”

Pants: “Am i the only one completely uninspired by what is effectively a gimmick? Internet radio? great if you have broadband, but here in UK-land broad band is almost non-existant. An expensive MP3 player anyone? and seriously, what is this obsession in the US with Palm type devices? In Europe, the way to go is with the mobile phone – PDAs have been/are non starters with the masses. They are simply viewed as show-off yuppy tosser toys…. hey – heres an idea Apple – rather than enter the world of gimmicks and toys, why dont you spend a little more time sorting out your pathetically expensive and crap server line up?”

DJK515: “It does have an ace up its sleeve, however. Next week, Apple is going to launch some kind of digital music device. It’s not clear exactly what it is, but the device will be Apple’s first hardware product that isn’t a computer since the ill-fated Newton handheld. You can expect it will be beautiful, even–dare we say–iMac-esque. You can expect it will have its own little section in the Apple store. And you can expect it to be the subject of numerous clever TV commercials between now and December, all of which will be nominated for Clio awards. And if nothing else, if it’s truly cool, you can bet the thing will boost traffic to the retail stores and Apple’s online store. And maybe, just maybe, some of those who buy one will take home an iMac or iBook to match.”

Jynnan Tonnyx: “Maybe it’s just the writing, but this “breakthrough” sounds curiously unimpressive and lacking in focus. It’s a wireless CD-burner/MP3-player/radio/iTunes-remote-control? What would it use for sound output? Does it have stereo-quality speakers built in? (Hardly a portable device, then)”

Rekras: “This device seems awfully unuseful and stupid for apple to make with the current speculation. People are saying everything from an mp3 player cd burner, to a portable imac screan. I really dont think any of this is true. For apple to release a portable non-mac product like this its going to be something we never would have imagined and that will blow away the computer industry, and sell millions of units. We can only wait until Tuesday to see what it will be.”

Elitemacor: “iPod? iPoop… iCry. I was so hoping for something more.”

WeezerX80: “Great just what the world needs, another freaking MP3 player. Go Steve! Where’s the Newton?! ….I still can’t believe this! All this hype for something so ridiculous! Who cares about an MP3 player? I want something new! I want them to think differently! Why oh why would they do this?! It’s so wrong! It’s so stupid!”

And since then, Apple has gone on to sell millions and millions of iPods, and the world has essentially changed the way we view movies and listen to music. And nerds and dweebs like WeezerX80 have descended into well-deserved obscurity.

Just as the iPod changed the way we listen, the iPhone changed the way we talk, the (rumoured title: iSlate) new tablet computer will, I’m willing to bet, change the way we work. Well, I sure hope so any way. I’m picking the demise of the mouse, and the demise of the keyboard too, before too long. A touch screen, draw on screen, recognise your voice and write it down on screen type of thing, a wave-your-hands-in-the-air-like-you-just-don’t-care type of thing – who knows what it will be like, or what it will grow into, but (to bring it back to a discussion about architecture) I’m hoping that within 5 years we’ll see every architect on site carrying one with ALL the drawings loaded on, the foreman on site with his own slate bearing the same version of your documentation as you do, every student in Uni with ALL their notes in the one device, newspapers made of paper will have largely disappeared (well, that’s happening anyway) to be replaced by these simple flat screens, all the eBooks in the Library replaced by your one slick machine, and all the bulky computers at home cluttering up desks gone and replaced by a simple slate tablet. I’ll go on holiday with one slate instead of a box of books, and they’ll read their slate on the Tube on the way to work instead of that silly folding the paper up to a column at a time thing they do now. Kindle will be dead and gone (and it hasn’t even got here yet – too late Jeff Bezos!). Who knows really? What will they launch? What will happen after? We’ll see what happens. There’s a week to go. And if you haven’t been reading the tech blogs, then remember – you read it here first.

And now, just for posterity, and later general possible hilarity, here is a brief snippet of what the web has been saying about the possibility of an Apple Tablet, possibly called the iSlate.

Macrumors: “While we normally avoid purely speculative pieces here on MacRumors, John Gruber has posted a particularly interesting opinion piece on what void or need the Apple Tablet might fill. Gruber acknowledges that this is not based on inside knowledge, but he is certain that a Tablet project is in the works and describes a “cone of silence” surrounding all those involved in the project. Exactly what purpose or role an Apple tablet will fulfill is a legitimate question that has been raised on a number of occasions. Since other company’s tablets have so far been commercially unsuccessful, what could Apple bring to the table that will suddenly make them a success? Steve Jobs himself has previously questioned what they were good for besides surfing the web in the bathroom.”

Speedy2: “Of course, they will sell a few million of their tablets, but it won’t be another iPod or iPhone. The iPod was bold and visionary, but a bit of a lucky shot. The iPhone filled a gap that had long been identified as such but had been executed improperly before (a useable smartphone). Which gap would the tablet fill? Apparently the gap of the convenient secondary home reading / surfing / video device. We’ve seen a lot of tablets that tried to replace notebooks as consumer reading / multimedia devices. They were all ignored for good reasons. Nobody yearned for such a device. Notebooks are “good enough” for most people and tablets limit your options too much. I don’t see the budget for two costly devices that do the same thing. Currently, netbooks fills the void of that convenient second home device. However, they are successful because they’re cheap. If a tablet wants to succeed in that area, it has to offer a substantial benefit. Either they have a completely unexpected game-changing ace up their sleeve (something like: perfect speech recognition combined with a gesture-recognizing webcam) or it won’t be a game-changing device. I do not believe in this “ace”. “

Thex1138: “It wont just be for the consumer market… it will have a fair bit of commercial applications for example restaurant ordering systems, medical, engineering, communications, mobile lab work… i think there will be expansion slot and at least one USB port, audio port, interface port, sim card slot and 2 or more controls on the side appart from the front face home button. A hybrid or new OS mix which will be able to use some OS X Apps and some iPhone Apps. Battery life will make or break though… a user will want at least a whole days usage or a couple of days stand by… I think it will do well, especially after I buy one and show off to everyone in my office”

MattinOz: “Not just books,…. to me all paper is the target of this device. All the paper in your school bag. All the paper you take to a meeting. Believe me I can sometimes be carrying a ream of of A3 paper to meetings happy to slim that down. All the paper you have lying around on your desk, around the house, in the kitchen, study,… Then can’t put your hands on when you need it. All the paper you would love to get of rid of but can’t because nothing in the market really works well. Kindle is about amazon moving content, While Apple does have content to move they get the most bang out of selling the device, so if they can help you get you own content on their then that is win for them as well.”

IronDuke: “This machine will be an epic fail running the current crop of mac os X 10 Applications, they just were not designed for 10″ touch screens.”

Spritelyjim: “For all of you wondering where Apple is going to sell this thing, here is your answer: COLLEGE STUDENTS!!! Can any of you not see the market there? First, college students were the first, I believe, to pick up iPods as a real trend. Second, imagine ditching all your heavy, expensive, often nonreturnable books, plus all your binders, notebooks and flash cards. If you could trade all that in for a light piece of hardware that let’s you buy digital textbooks cheap and mark them up and cross reference with no reservations, I’m sure you’ll see students flocking to buy them, perhaps instead of laptops. Also the name. iSlate. How doesn’t that say educational?”

Shall22: “iPhone screen resolution is 163ppi. A 10.1 inch screen at that resolution just happens to give you pixel dimensions of 1280×720, or 720p.”

Pup: “The killer app will be geared toward print media. Think iTunes for magazines and newspapers. The print industry is in a world of hurt, and they’re desperate for a solution. That’s the kind of problem that’s really attractive to Jobs & Co. The idea is to have an incredibly rich media viewer which gives the publishers five things – a subscriber model, remarkably inexpensive distribution, artistic control equal to or greater than their print products, interactivity, and a better ad product to sell – ads that can capture the reader’s attention far, far better than any banner ad ever could. Make no mistake, this isn’t just a new distribution channel for them – Apple is giving them a chance to survive. And a very attractive chance at that. It’s an enormous opportunity, and unlike the TV space, Apple should be poised to take control of the market just as they did with music. What Apple will get in return is a cut of the subscription and ad fees, which will be used to subsidize the purchase price. Those who think this will carry a $1000+ price tag are way off. Apple will set the price according to the market, but I’m suspecting it will be in the $200-$500 range.”

Apolloa: “I actually predict the Tablet thing to be a failure. It will sell loads, but as a device will fail. $500 or more for something just to read your magazines or newspapers on? And these will no doubt require some sort of subscription. May make an interesting gaming device but what’s the point in that? You’ve got the iPhone and iPod devices for that plus games consoles and PC’s flooding the home market. Will it be another Macbook Air or Newton? The iPod was successful as it was a complete package for easy digital music, the iPhone followed on with the apps store and of course it’s OS design. What can a Tablet do that’s value for money or not been done already?”

And sorry about this last one, if you’ve got this far. Some people just ‘guess’ too much to be outsiders. Does this guy know something that others don’t? We’ll find out in a week’s time….

Sactoguy18: “1) We will have not one, but TWO different tablet computers, one with a 7″ screen and one with a 10.1” screen. Both screens will be LED backlit (for now) to keep power consumption reasonably low.

2) The 7″ version will offer 64 GB of flash memory, while the 10.1″ version will offer 128 GB of flash memory. Mind you, if the next-generation flash memory is available by the time the tablet computers reach retailers in April 2010, we could get 128 GB for the 7″ version and 256 GB or the 10″ version.

3) The touchscreen could sport some soft of haptic touch feel–though the technology used is still unknown.

4) It will use improved versions of the CortexA8 ARM CPU and PowerVR GPU, using PA Semi technology that Apple owns because Apple bought out PA Semi. These improvements will speed up performance and allow for flawless playback of HD video downloaded through iTunes (720p plus full interactive LP liner notes).

5) It will run a new, “intermediate” MacOS X version that is more functional than the iPhone OS but less functional than MacOS X 10.6.2 found on real Mac computers. This new MacOS X variant allows for true multitasking and cut-and-paste, and will use an interface designed specifically for touchscreen functionality.

6) Will include 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi wireless network connectivity as standard, with optional GSM 3G HSDPA/HSUPA / CDMA 3G EVDO multi-standard cellular network connectivity (probably using a Broadcom chipset).

7) External connectors will include iPod dock connector (for charging and syncing through USB 2.0 port) and Mini DisplayPort connector (with optional Mini DisplayPort to HDMI 1.3) adapter.

Pricing will be US$549 for 7″ version, US$749 for 10.1″ version.

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