Everybody's talking about the new tablet computer Apple is expected to unveil this month. Some say it will save newspapers by giving them a new platform where they can charge for subscriptions. Some say it will destroy cable TV by letting people purchase shows à la carte over the Internet. Some say the tablet is pointless—nobody needs it, and it will be a total flop. But the truth is no one knows how this device will end up being used—not even Apple.
Yes, Steve Jobs and his team know exactly what the tablet will look like, what chips it will use, and how much it will cost. They've probably created some slick software for the tablet, and maybe they've struck deals with software makers and media companies to deliver content for the device.
But the cool thing about technology is that nobody ever knows how new ideas will evolve. Today's hype around the tablet is a lot like the hype around the iPhone before its 2007 introduction. Back then, just like today, everyone was trying to guess what it would look like and what it would do—and as it turns out, nobody was even close.
The lesson we've learned since then is that even the people who created the iPhone could not have imagined what people would do with the device. Much of the fun of iPhone involves software apps that didn't exist when the iPhone was introduced. Those apps don't come from Apple—they were written by thousands of developers who found inspiration in a new computing platform.
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