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Take a tablet and call me in the morning

January 24, 2010—This is completely off topic, but hey! everybody's going crazy speculating about Apple's forthcoming tablet announcement, so why shouldn't I join in? I have only four more days to make a complete fool of myself (like everybody else) by making outlandish predictions... like the writer of this unintentionally hilarious PC World article. The fact that he hasn't even seen the new Apple product's specs, much less actually used one, didn't stop him from declaring—a week before its unveiling—that it was useless.*

Monolith

To be fair, the amount of "tablet" hype (none of it, let it be noted, coming from Apple) has been so outrageous that you can't entirely blame the skeptics for overreacting. I just wish both sides would shut up until they have the facts. But of course the trade press needs grist for their mills, which is why most of the hype (both pro and con) has originated with rags like Gizmodo and PC World.

Well, here's my contribution to the punditry. I don't claim to know what Apple's tablet will look like (although a 10" diagonal screen and an incredibly thin case are pretty safe bets), or what it will do. I'm sure of this much: they're not just going to throw a piece of hardware on the table and say, "Here, you figure out what to do with it," the way PC makers like Acer, Lenovo, and Dell routinely do. I expect a well-integrated hardware/software/content system, with seamless connections to publishers, video providers, and of course to the App Store.

And I can predict one thing with absolute certainty: next week's announcement will bring out the trolls in force. Yes, we're in for another spate of articles that explain why this new Apple product can't possibly succeed. The main themes will be infinite variations on "It's nothing new" and "It's too expensive"... the same themes we heard when the iPod was introduced, and again when the iPhone hit the stores. Let's take a stroll down Memory Lane...

  • The Macintosh uses an experimental pointing device called a "mouse." There is no evidence that people want to use these things. I don't want one of these new fangled devices.—Columnist John C. Dvorak, 1984
  • Apple is already dead.—Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, 1997**
  • The iPod is far from revolutionary. I for one think that Apple is making a mistake by trying to get into this market.—Blogger "Calculasaurus," 2001
  • Why would anybody pay $500 for a personal music player, when they can get a Walkman for thirty or forty bucks?—Andy Baird, 2001
  • The Apple phone will fail, and fail badly—Tech-industry columnist Bill Ray, 2006
  • There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.—Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, 2007***
  • All I want is a cell phone that's a phone—none of these fancy gimmicks for me.—Andy Baird, 2007

Yes, I used to be one of those naysayers. When the iPod was first announced, I scoffed. Yet I now own (and use!) five of the things: a 20GB iPod, a 60GB iPod Video, an 8GB iPod Touch, and both first- and second-generation iPod Shuffles. The iPod has held more than 70% of the personal music player market for the past five years, while Microsoft's Zune has slipped from 10% market share at launch to less than 2% now. Apple is now the world's largest music retailer, with more than ten billion songs downloaded from its iTunes music Store.

Similarly, when the iPhone came out, I was unimpressed. But now, just three years after its introduction, Apple's profits from iPhone sales exceed those of former market leader Nokia. (Nokia stills sells more phones—although their market share is declining as rapidly as Apple's is rising—but Nokia makes very little money on each phone they sell.)

In short, I've learned not to trust my own predictions when it comes to Apple products.

Right now I don't see how a tablet computer would fit into my life. Heck, I don't even use my 2005-vintage Mac laptop more than a dozen times a year. And yet... I don't put it past Apple to find some unexpected way to make me need one of these tablets. I'll be interested to see how they do it, if they can do it. One thing's for sure, though: I won't be ordering one next Wednesday. It always takes a year or two to get things through my thick skull.

2010: The Year We Make Contact

Postscript: A year later I bought an iPad 2, then traded up to an iPad 3 the year after that, then added an iPad Mini. I gave away my laptop—I don't need it any more, and for my purposes the iPad is much better.

* As of early 2013, Apple has sold 130 million iPads, while every other computer maker is struggling unsuccessfully to imitate the product. For example, Microsoft's Surface tablet has sold fewer than a million units, despite a half billion dollar hard-sell campaign.

** Apple's market capitalization is now larger than Microsoft's—in fact, Apple is the largest technology company in the world. Meanwhile, Nathan Myhrvold, no longer employed by Microsoft, is running a patent shakedown scam involving 1,110 (!) shell companies that do nothing but file nuisance lawsuits on behalf of his holding corporation.

*** The iPhone alone now earns more money than all of Microsoft put together.

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