Apple Yerba BuenaWill all intelligent life stop and pause tomorrow for an hour and focus on a stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts? Could happen! This is when Apple will announce its newest slew of products, including its much anticipated tablet, which has been hyped for months.

The event is set for 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m Eastern/6 p.m GMT or 3:00am if you are still awake in Tokyo or Seoul. Steve Jobs, in what many speculate may be his last major product unveiling, is not expected to disappoint the Apple faithful. There are few companies on the planet that garner this much pre-announcement attention, from the traditional press, the analyst community, the blogosphere, and from consumers themselves.  I had several friends today, not related to the technology industry at all, asking me about the new “tablet ” device.

I WILL BE LIVE BLOGGING THE APPLE ANNOUNCEMENT ON WEDNESDAY (CURATING) ON THE MOBILE MONDAY BOSTON WEBSITE AT WWW.MOMOBOSTON.COM

Apple, known for going to extreme measures to keep the lid on all product announcements, and rumors of a secrete enforcement squad operating inside its Cupertino headquarters, has had its hands full keeping this one in check. However, once it sent out the invitation to select press, bloggers, and analysts, the whirlwind of speculation and the rumor mill went into full tilt on many of the major websites.

And today, just a day before the event, we saw seen several leaks, including one major one on a major network. During a live interview on CNBC, Terry McGraw, Chairman and CEO of McGraw-Hill blurted out that the new tablet will be able to be loaded with college textbooks, and he went on to state that it will be based on the iPhone OS.

Reporters today were rushing around posting stories and calling analysts and bloggers looking for their speculations around the types of applications we may see come to the tablet. Earlier today on HARO (Help a Reporter Out, which by the way is a great site and tool!), one Businessweek reporter was looking specifically for someone to comments on what the device may mean for the education market. Was this reporter clairvoyant? This was well before the CNBC leak. No, most people have been expecting the device to be directed at the education market due to Apple’s big focus there. But if Terry McGraw is correct in that college textbooks will be accessible, we can expect Apple to gain strength in the higher education market as well, to bolster its strength in K-12.

The publishing industry in general will be another primary market segment for the tablet. It will squarely take on the Kindle and the nook and a host of other ereaders recently announced at CES. But you can bet that an ereader will be just one of the functions that Apple’s device will do, and do well.

crosswords-260I would also expect the tablet to be a great gaming platform. It may very easily extend the gaming experience, putting even more pressure on Sony and Nintendo in the portable game player segment, that are suffering from the latest generation iPod Touch’s strong foray into gaming, and the wealth of games on iTunes. As I’m writing this post, developer Stand Alone Inc. has announced that it is developing its Crosswords game for the iPhone for 10-inch screen. That’s clearly putting the app before the official hardware!

There is also the home automation and control market. It is virtually untapped at the moment, and another area where many vendors have tried to create solutions, but never found any traction. Apple has made software investments here in the past on the iPhone OS side.

If the tablet does run the next version of the iPhone OS (which is expected tomorrow) then it will extend a couple hundred thousand applications already out there, depending on how much they have to be tweeked for a larger display. Microsoft, Nokia, RIM, and Palm can’t do that today, and I would venture that it will be hard too without a major overhaul of their OSes.

I attended last night’s Developers MeetUp sponsored by Mobile Monday Boston and MassMobile, and the buzz there was all about Apple’s tablet. I asked as many Boston-area mobile developers as I could, where they will point their development efforts over the next year and the results were pretty consistant:

  1. Android (strongly)
  2. iPhone (strongly)
  3. Apple tablet (moderately at first)

and BlackBerry and Windows Mobile and Symbian were a distant 4, 5, and 6, mainly because these platforms are too fragmented when it comes to the many different types of devices you have to “compensate” for. Developer interest in WebOS by Palm was even more remote due to its small installed base and lack of presence outside the US.

That’s a very telling picture!

So as we head into tomorrow’s announcement, remember that the MP3 player market was not huge until Apple unveiled the iPod. The smart phone market was not huge until Apple unveiled the iPhone, and the ereader market is not huge, despite the positive debuts of both the Kindle and nook (do you remember when ereaders debuted years ago with the Rocket eBook?). Will Apple help propel yet another product category? Will it finally bridge that gap between the smart phone and the laptop that everyone has been trying to trying to do for well over two years (especially Intel, QUALCOMM, etc.).

Stay tuned!

-Randy Giusto

randygiusto@newdigitalcafe.com