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Swaine's Flames: Second-guess Apple and Win a No-Prize!

Maybe it's just the giddy air of gadgetophilia that exudes from the Consumer Electronics Show at around this time every year, but it sure seems like permission to think outside the box has been granted to computer manufacturers recently. The box in question being the one on your desk or lap with its too-familar WIMP interface. It started with the iPhone, of course, which demonstrated that a handheld device can to a large extent replace a computer, without benefit of a standard keyboard or mouse, lacking the obligatory windowing GUI, and while taking a radically different approach to files and applications. The iPhone didn't pioneer any of those things, it just mainstreamed them.

And I'm guessing that this is why we're seeing netbooks finally gaining ground, but netbooks are already looking very last-decade. Now we're being told that this will be the year of the slate, or tablet, or whatever you call it.

The uncertainty over the name of the product category reflects the squishiness of the definition of that product category. Some of the devices being demoed have actual keyboards, some virtual ones. They occupy various positions along the phone-to-computer bridge, many of them up on the railing without a bungee. Some are two-screen devices, with hinges and other moving parts that will probably break if the things ever make it from concept to product stage.

And there is a lot of naked concept dancing around out there and flaunting its stuff. Dazzling concept videos that demonstrate once and for all that the industry has learned how to produce concept videos. There's an amazing teaser for the next-after-the-next-gen OLPC (a tablet), floated before the next-gen OLPC (a laptop) comes out. I'd say that OLPC just pulled an OCC, but OLPC has a unique business model, so maybe they know what they're doing.

It's almost getting interesting.

But this is January, so the only thing we're allowed to obsess about is what universe-shaking something Apple will release. Because rumors are flying that Apple is about to announce that it will hold an event later this month to announce something. I've got tingles.

Will the something have a virtual keyboard that nevertheless provides tactile feedback? I like that prediction. 3D graphics? Post-Avatar, that might seem to be obligatory. Will it continue the evolution of the iTunes Store toward newsstand-slash-movie megaplex?

Speculations and predictions (or are those the same thing in this case?) are all over the map, but by a sort of Wisdom of Crowds logic, some kind of consensus ought to emerge. If it has, though, I haven't discerned it, and anyway, my money would not be on the crowd this time.

Nobody but Steve Jobs knows what the plan is, but that doesn't stop every pundit and his canine companion from guessing. I don't want to do that. I want to get you to do that.

I propose a contest. But one with no prizes. Or, in the spirit of Marvel Comics guru Stan Lee, No-Prizes. I will award a No-Prize to the person who does the best job of answering the following questions about the rumored Apple device (or as Andy Ihnatko calls it, the RAT: Rumored Apple Tablet). These questions may not be the most interesting, but I've tried to focus on the more objective aspects of the rumored device, so I have some hope of deciding who actually got it right.

So here are the questions:

  • Price: less than $500, $500-699, $700-999, four figures.
  • Processor: ARM, Intel, something else.
  • Operating system: basically the iPhone OS, basically the Mac OS, something significantly different.
  • Screen size: 7-inch diagonal, 10-inch diagonal, something else.
  • SDK: full SDK available on delivery or not.
  • Name: something involving Slate, something involving Tablet, something involving Book, something else.
  • Ship date: before March 1, in March, after April 1.
  • Number sold in 2010: your guess.

Email me ([email protected]) your guesses and I'll announce the No-Prizes for the best guesser(s) shortly after the announcement. Don't miss your chance to have your name forever enshrined in, er, wherever we enshrine things nowadays. Remember: there is no cost to enter (and no prize, I mean a No-Prize, for winning).

As Stan would say, 'Nuff said.

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