5 Questions About the Apple iSlate

With everyone trying to guess what the new iSlate will look like, let’s take a step back. Expectations are high, and are probably overwrought for what could very likely be a niche product.

A few caveats first: I’ve long been an Apple fan boy, since my Mac Classic (and I am usually disgusted with Mister Softee products). Over the years, I’ve had some pretty good calls on Apple’s stock (none better than recommending it as a buy in 2003 at (pre-split) $15, with $13 cash). And I’ve enjoyed making forecasts (i.e., wild-ass guesses) about what their new products will be — despite a less than stellar record. How bad? Let’s just say I better stick to stocks and markets than trying to earn a living forecasting Apple product releases.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun trying to suss out what Apple is up to. I expect it to be slick and cool and make me want to have one — but I am not sure if its something I need or even really want.

When iSteve takes the stage tomorrow, there are 5 questions I hope he will answer about the device:

Is the iSlate a category killer, like the iPod?

Probably not. From reports, this sounds like its one part netbook,  one part Kindle, one part iPod touch. A niche product between the MacBook and the iPhone.

When the first iPod arrived, it was a terrific usage of off the shelf components and unique Apple interface (plus ITMS) that made the entire process of managing, listening to and carrying around your music utterly seamless.

We will find out if the iSlate can accomplish nearly as much.

Is the iSlate a game changer, like the iPhone?

When the iPhone first arrived, it totally upended the cellular phone market, wresting design control away from the carriers. A flurry of activity from handset manufacturers responded to the challenge, and the entire cellular phone industry was changed. Will the iSlate be as influential?

Can the iSlate rescue the publishing industry?

While that is an interesting question, the short answer is “I doubt it.” Unless they can sell 20 million of these and build in a $50 annual fee to pay the NYT, WSJ, and various book publishers, etc.

• How does this position Apple versus its peers?

The company continues to innovate, take chances roll out new products. Whether this is a home run or a dud, it almost doesn’t matter — as long as they keep rolling out enough new products to keep gadget happy consumers coming back for more.

And it shows. Both consumers and investors have drunk the Kool-Aid. Consider Apple’s market cap — it is an astonishing $186.7 billion dollars — that’s bigger than:

Google $172B
Cisco $131.7B
HP $117.5B
Intel $110.4B
Verizon $85.7B
Amazon $51.7B
Research In Motion $34B
Dell $26.5B

Even more amazing when you recall this was a company that many people had written off as dead a few short product cycles ago . . .

• What does this do to the competitive landscape?

Is this a broadside against the Amazon Kindle? (How much does that device gall Steve, I wonder?). Does this respond to any of Google’s recent initiatives? (and are they still “frenemies”?) Is the iSlate a response to cheap netbooks? An upscale iPhone that will get a foot int he door with Verizon? Is Apple, with its huge cash war chest,  positioning this product in a niche market they think might grow over time, potentially replacing laptops? Is this an entertainment device, replacing DVD players and small TVs?

I don’t have much in the way of answers, only questions. We’ll find out tomorrow at Noon . .  .

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