Apple's tablet launch: a masterclass in hype

For all the rumour and speculation, Apple has done a amazingly good job of maintaining a shroud of secrecy over its new product, set to be announced i

For all the rumour and speculation, Apple has done a amazingly good job of maintaining a shroud of secrecy over its new product, set to be announced in San Francisco today at 10am PST (6pm GMT).

We’re pretty confident that Apple boss Steve Jobs will unveil a tablet computer, after the CEO of publishers McGraw-Hill told CNBC that they’d been working with Apple on the device. Tim McGraw also said Apple’s tablet will run a version of the iPhone software.

The rest is guesswork: it’s possible that the tablet will be called ‘iSlate’, ‘iTablet’ or ‘iPad’. It’s highly likely to have a 10in touchscreen that may feature a proximity sensor that monitors the position of your fingers even when they’re not in contact with the screen. It could have sensors on the side of the screen, too, so you can control the tablet while holding it with both hands.

The tablet isn’t expected to be launched until late spring or summer, which could be because Apple needs time to gain FCC approval - suggesting the tablet will contain a 3G connection for web browsing and downloads on the move.

But whatever the technologies, we can be sure that Apple will deliver a product that not only looks good, but feels good, too. After all, the company  has made a successful business by spotting a growing market, and redefining it; by taking an existing product and wrapping it in joy. That’s how the geeky MP3 player became the funky iPod, and the fiddly smartphone because the app-tastic iPhone.

And now? Well, tablet PCs have been around for a while, without any significant success; but the eReader market is flourishing. In order to take on the Amazon Kindle, Apple needs to deliver a product that has a good battery life, a readable screen  - and a price in hundreds of dollars, not thousands.

But really, the only certain thing is uncertainty. By successfully shrouding its new creation in secrecy, Apple has transformed a product launch into truly compelling theatre. It hasn't just grabbed the world's attention - it has stimulated demand for a product we know almost nothing about.

Perhaps Apple's greatest creation is desire.

You can follow live updates from the launch over at the Stuff.tv liveblog.

By Tom Dunmore, Consulting Editor, Stuff