If half the rumors about the Apple tablet are true (and only half can be true because they contradict the other half), then there can only be one conclusion: the Apple company as we know it will cease to exist.
$500 price tag: This one is the most obvious culprit of un-Apple thinking. It’s been floated by a few sources, but the logic from Jeff Bertolucci from Yahoo! Tech sums up the fallacy of this theory: “Some reports say $800 is likely, but that seems high for a consumer electronics device.” Yes, it does seem high. You know what else seems high? ALL of Apple’s prices. Their cheapest computer is $599 and doesn’t come with a monitor or input devices. That’s the same price as an unsubsidized iPhone 3GS (16GB, not the 32GB which is $100 more). So they’re going to sell their mythic tablet for $100 less than that? I don’t think so. Even an $800 price tag sounds highly optimistic.
4G/LTE connectivity: By itself, 4G connectivity is not an outrageous theory, but combined with a 2010 release date, it’s hard to swallow. If 4G makes it to market then, it will only be in “select” markets, seriously reducing the attractiveness of this feature. That won’t fly unless the tablet can fall back to a slower connection, but if they do sign up with Verizon as rumored, then the tablet would need to use CDMA. That’s fine for the States, but it’s not a global system like GSM. So then Apple needs to decide on whether to produce a GSM version for other markets or possibly make it work with both standards. Certainly possible, but it seems out of character for a company that put single-card readers in their notebooks, as opposed to multi-card readers.
Also, Apple is quick to drop technologies it considers no longer useful, but slow to adopt new technologies unless it’s entirely in their control, like multi-touch. They were early with dropping floppy disk support and are dropping Firewire support in most of their offerings, but they only recently added a card reader to Macbooks and still no Blu-Ray or integrated WWAN. If I was looking for someone to embrace 4G as soon as it becomes available in limited areas, I would not bother looking toward Apple.
And how would a 4G deal compete with tethering (i.e., Internet connection sharing) via the iPhone? We here in the U.S. haven’t gotten this feature yet, presumably because AT&T needs to increase their network capacity. But if AT&T intends to charge extra for tethering (and they will), I would guess Apple is negotiating a way to get their piece of that pie, which would best come as a subsidy for a Macbook purchase. It’s a simple idea: sign up for an iPhone tethering plan, get a discount on a Macbook to use that plan. Why would Apple offer a presumed cheaper tablet with 4G data connectivity to compete against that when they could be upselling Macbooks instead?
Usage scenario: One thing that hasn’t gotten much consideration is how Apple envisions their tablet to be used. This is highly important because Apple always has a plan behind every release. Will their tablet be a media consumption device, a video-centric version of the iPod? Will it be a mobile computer, an ultra-mobile Macbook? What market will it serve? My guess would be video-centric iPod.
An ultra-mobile Macbook would be akin to a Tablet PC, which has been primarily a vertical market device while Apple heavily targets the consumer market. Multi-touch screen control is wonderful, but without a keyboard, an Apple tablet will be seen as a toy, not a work machine (note: I disagree with that perception but I know it exists and endures for tablets). Thus, I see an Apple tablet being used primarily as an at-home device for watching video and surfing the web, which means anywhere-connectivity would not be a priority. True, it wouldn’t have the same utility as an iPhone, but again, I think Apple would prefer their customers to buy both an iPhone and a Mac (or iPhone and tablet).
All that said, nothing stops Apple from doing something as un-Apple-like as releasing a $500 Mac tablet equipped to use a newly introduced wireless data system limited to select markets. It just wouldn’t be the strategy I’ve come to expect from Apple. An Apple tablet certainly has revolutionary potential, but I find it hard to believe it would revolutionize Apple itself before it’s even released.
As for my prediction, I’m going to say the tablet will replace the Macbook, which was stripped down to one model, keeping its $1000 price tag, which can be subsidized if you add a tethering plan to your iPhone. Oh, and at least one more round of rumors, which will negate the current rumors (again), before all is revealed.