With so many rumors about an Apple tablet buzzing around, it's hard to believe Apple wouldn't announce one this year. But what do we really know about this thing?
Apple fans are an expectant bunch, and one thing or another has gotten their hopes up nearly every year since the death of the Newton. But more recent—and especially post-iPhone—tablet rumors have become so intense, varied and inconsistent that it's hard to come away with a coherent picture of what to expect. Here's what we've got, and what it means.
Patent applications have kindled more bizarre Apple rumors than I can count, but there has been an undeniable cluster of activity around tablet-oriented tech as of late.
The earliest seeds of the current tablet frenzy can be traced back to 2004, when Apple filed for a European design trademark on a device that looked like "an iBook screen minus the body of the computer." It was much larger than what people are expecting now, but in some ways the design prefigured the aesthetic of the next few generations of iMac, and even the iPhone.
Skip forward to 2006, when Apple filed for a patent for an onscreen keyboard, gesture recognition and a virtual scroll wheel. Again, some of these technologies would find their way into the iPhone before too long, but the application contained a telling mockup of a tablet-esque product, smaller than the 2004 version, but which fit most of its description.
A flurry of offhand "tablet" shout-outs in tangentially related patents followed, but none carried much weight. It wasn't until August of '08 that something truly momentous passed in front of the weary eyes of a Patent Office employee: A huge, generously illustrated filing describing how OS X could be adapted to touch input. In it were descriptions of iPhone-like interface element magnification, a full-sized multitouch onscreen keyboard, and finally, plenty of drawings of a tablet device being prodded by inexplicably troll-like horror-fingers (shown at left). A hardware patent—kind of like the 2004 tablet patent—surfaced a few months later, outlining a keyboardless device not unlike the one sketched previously.