The media hordes and analysts are being invited to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater in San Francisco, where it is presumed company CEO Steve Jobs will show off the latest gadgets and services from Apple headquarters. The invitation, which reached in-boxes shortly after 9 a.m., is as vague as it is inviting. "Come see our latest creation," the mass e-mail read. The Apple logo is emblazoned over a virtual painter's palette splashed with colors.
The Cupertino, Calif., company, the maker of iPhones, iPods and Macintosh PCs and laptops, is known for jolting the tech world with its announcements. Tablet devices have been around for two decades and have failed to catch on with the mainstream buying public. At this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, tablets were being pitched by the likes of Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo. And e-readers — a form of tablet — are gaining some traction after the success of Kindle, Amazon's wireless reading device.
Apple, though, is known for rearranging the existing markets of tech products.
"Apple loves to innovate around existing products," said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies. "They didn't invent MP3 players, but they reinvented them. They didn't invent smart phones, but they reinvented smart phones."
As usual, Apple is not saying what will be shown off at the morning event. But the tech world has been buzzing for months with speculation and rumors about a thin computing slab that could change how people access and interact online with content — from newspapers to movies to games. It is expected to be priced in the $800 to $1,000 range. Numerous sources point to a March ship date for the new device.
More than one product could be offered up, said Envisioneering Group analyst Richard Doherty. Possible announcements could include a touch-screen iMac PC, a larger iPod touch with a superior screen equipped with Wi-Fi for gaming, a 7-inch to 9-inch tablet that is a multimedia player or even a laptop with a built-in tablet, perhaps a revamping of the ultrathin MacBook Air, he said.
The company's innovative edge, Doherty said, most likely will be more than just sleek hardware and smooth-running software. It will be a new business model for, say, renting and accessing Hollywood movies, just as the company changed the way people buy music and other content through its online iTunes store.
"Apple is probably going to beat them all to the punch with not just the hardware but a business model that satisfies more consumers — that is more consumer-centric," he said.
Though multiple news outlets and bloggers have reported leaks out of Asia about an impending Apple tablet computing device, longtime Apple watcher Bajarin isn't ready to say he is sure about anything that will or will not be released next week.
"One thing that is a little puzzling is that Apple is famous for the secrecy they demand from their suppliers," he said. "This time around, the suppliers were singing like canaries. So right off the bat I'm suspicious. Who knows what this is about?"