Tablet Talk

There hasn't been this much chatter about tablets since Moses carried two down from the mount. Can Apple possibly live up to the hype?

By Jere Hester
|  Tuesday, Jan 26, 2010  |  Updated 7:15 AM EDT
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Tablet Talk

AP

Apple CEO Steve Jobs could be carrying the most important tablet since Moses.

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There hasn't been this much interest in tablets since Moses hauled a couple down from Mt. Sinai.

It's a good bet that Apple's much anticipated Tablet – expected to be unveiled Wednesday, but no one knows for sure – will be lighter than Moses' stone decrees from God and will hold a lot more text than a mere 10 commandments.

If that build-up sounds overblown, well, welcome to the silliest, primarily customer-driven hype campaign yet for a tech product – one that presumably nobody outside Apple's Cupertino, Ca., headquarters has seen.

The latest online sport is speculating on what the Tablet will do (It will kick Kindle’s butt! Great for gamers!), what it will look like, complete with Photoshopped renderings (It will have a 10-inch screen! No, an 8-inch screen!) and what effect it will have on media (It will destroy publishing! No, it will save publishing!).

Apple has struck on its most brilliant marketing strategy yet: do nothing.

The Tablet stands as an (so far) invisible Rorschach test onto which geeks can project a wish list of features. The Tablet, it seems, will do everything for everybody. It's a twist on the ancient "Saturday Night Live" commercial parody where a couple argues over whether a household product is for mopping or eating ("Hey, hey, hey, calm down, you two. New Shimmer is both a floor wax and a dessert topping!”)

The Tablet hype has been predominantly an online enterprise, showing the speed and power of the Internet rumor mill isn't confined to propagating celebrity sex scandals or death hoaxes (A supposedly overheard quote from Steve Jobs about the Tablet was making the Web rounds Monday, as was an apparently phony commercial for the “iPad”).

For months, observers have been rummaging through virtual tea leaves, giving Jobs and Co. the Fed/Ben Bernanke treatment, where every arched eyebrow is taken as an Oracle – um, sign – of the future.

Speaking of the economy, perhaps the biggest question, other than price (guesses range from about $500 to $2,000, though most peg the cost at $800 to $1,000), is how will the Tablet sell in tough times, even if the gadget does the impossible and lives up to its expectations.

Only time – and Steve Jobs – will tell.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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