Will 2010 be “The Year of the Tablet?” New York Times blogger Nick Bilton thinks so. Two days ago he wrote:

Like almost all the people covering technology, I have no doubt that Apple will release a tabletlike device in 2010; there are too many signs that point in this direction. Let’s put all the rumors aside for a moment and look at the facts. There’s the endless chain of patents, as Brad Stone reported in The New York Times in late September on the rehiring of Michael Tchao, who worked on the Apple Newton. I’ve had many discussions with publishers and content creators that sustain my suspicions.

But the icing on the cake comes from a current senior employee inside Apple. When one of my colleagues here asked if the rumors of the Apple tablet were true, and when we could expect such a device, the response from his source was, “I can’t really say anything, but, let’s just say Steve is extremely happy with the new tablet.”

On the same day, David Gelles wrote in the Financial Times’ TechBlog:

Apple has something big up its sleeve for next month. The company has rented a stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco for several days in late January, according to people familiar with the plans. Apple is expected to use the venue to make a major product announcement on Tuesday, January 26th.

Many people rightly observe we’ve had tablet technologies for years, so what could be so special about an APPLE tablet? Chris Foresman is on the right track writing today:

If Apple’s top talent put six years or more into development, and it meets Steve Jobs’s legendary high expectations, we’re sure Apple’s tablet will be yet another game-changer in a long line of game-changing devices.

The fact that Apple has already designed wildly successful tablet technologies in the iPhone and the iPod Touch figures big in this equation. I only hope the battery life on this new tablet is WAY better than what I’m getting now with my iPhone GS.

While few doubt Apple’s ability to engineer and deliver YET MORE revolutionary technologies, I think one of the most pivotal pieces to this puzzle is CONTENT.

What significance do you place on the fact that the latest iterations of iTunes prominently feature iTunesU right in the program’s “Library” menu, and a major push at every Apple presentation I’ve watched in the past year has been showcasing the content in iTunesU?

iTunesU featured prominently in iTunes

I think Apple is poised to reinvent textbooks on college and university campuses, wooing digitally-leery textbook publishers with the same DRM technology that convinced music publishers (and now many movie publishers) to embrace the iTunes Store. I also think this disintermediation of the textbook publishing process (via the iTunes Store) will be a huge boon to wanna-be authors like yours truly. I could be wrong, of course, but this is how I read the tea leaves.

December 23rd was a very interesting day to read headlines related to eBooks and eTexts. Adam Penenberg’s article for FastCompany, “Forget E-Books: The Future of the Book Is Far More Interesting,” makes a compelling historical case for the death of analog print and its transformation into communication mediums we have not yet begun to imagine. He paints an exciting picture of the not-so-distant future of reading. To make his point, Adam writes about one of my favorite Oklahoma inventors and inveterate explorers, Wiley Post.

Imagine a biography of Wiley Post, the one-eyed pilot from the 1930s who was the first to fly around the world. It would not only offer the entire text of a book but newsreel footage from his era, coverage of his most famous flights, radio interviews, schematics of his plane, interactive maps of his journeys, interviews with aviation historians and pilots of today, a virtual tour of his cockpit and description of every gauge and dial, short profiles of other flyers of his time, photos, hyperlinked endnotes and index, links to other resources on the subject. Social media could be woven into the fabric of the experience–discussion threads and wikis where readers share information, photos, video, and add their own content to Post’s story, which would tie them more closely to the book. There’s also the potential for additional revenue streams: You could buy MP3s of popular songs from the 1930s, clothes that were the hot thing back then, model airplanes, other printed books, DVDs, journals, and memorabilia.

Adam’s analysis is right on target: He’s “… not predicting the end of immersive reading,” but rather an engaging, multimedia expansion of what it means to consume as well as produce and share ideas on a global scale. How could any language arts teacher passionate about learning, ideas and expression take issue with THAT vision?!

Have you seen the design prototype of the OLPC Version 3, touted to sell in 2012 for $75 US?

XO Laptop 3 design

Whether or not you share the ire of Wayan Vota for Nicholas Negroponte’s apparent focus on hardware innovation at the expense of children’s learning, or wonder (as I do too) if the ability of the XO 1.5 to run Windows 7 represents “… an end to the Open Source roots of OLPC,” it is hard to miss the trendlines here. Tablet technologies are already here and are wildly popular with many consumers. Tech companies are working and will continue to work to not just digitize past processes of work, but REINVENT the ways we work and play.

For a more positive take on the XO 3 design announcement, see Kit Eaton’s article from – you guessed it, December 23rd – “How the OLPC Version 3 Predicts the Future of PCs.”

Whether Apple makes a historic announcement on January 26th or not, it’s safe to say we should all get ready for an exciting year to read (and share) media.

H/T to Philip Elmer-DeWitt for several of the links included in this post.

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