iT minus 24 hours and counting

This time tomorrow we will know. We will know for an absolute fact whether or not Apple is about to release a flat rectangular touch-screen device for computing applications. We will know what that device is called. We will know what operating system it runs. We will know what its specifications are in terms of screen resolution, processor speed, networking — will it have 3G or not — and more. Most importantly, we'll know precisely what it looks like and, with any luck, what it will cost.

And where will the fun be in that?

For years people have been speculating about a tablet/slate device from Apple (hereinafter referred to as a "slablet"). When tablet computers first appeared from other vendors, people assumed Apple would come out with a slablet that would do the one thing none of the others did — sell in sufficient numbers to bother.

Tablets came and sort of went (they're still out there, honest) and then there were netbooks. Steve Jobs's derisive comments about netbooks convinced some people that he must be about to release a netbook (because Jobs is funny that way sometimes), and convinced others that the day of the slablet was indeed about to dawn.

The past couple of years, while people have become accustomed to the touch interface on the iPhone and iPod touch, speculation has gone beyond fever pitch that Apple must surely be about to release a device that would be just like this, but a little bigger — seven inches, maybe ten, split the difference and make it eight and a half.

No longer is there speculation about the slablet. There is certainty. Except, of course, for the fact that there is absolutely no certainty at all. No-one who is allowed to say anything knows a damn thing about whatever it is Steve will unveil at Yerba Buena tomorrow morning. Everything you have read is speculation, guesswork and out-and-out fantasy.

And hasn't it been fun?

We've all been little Jonny Ives, designing what we reckon the slablet ought to look like. We've added the features we want, regardless of the considerations of cost, size, temperature and so on that actually go into manufacturing these things. Because we don't have to take all that stuff into account — only the people building it do. In our fantasy world, anything is possible for the slablet. Anything.

Three-dimensional holographic interface? Got it.

Virtually unlimited battery life? Absolutely.

Running an unlimited number of iPhone apps and Mac OS X applications at the same time? Of course.

High-Definition screen for watching 1080p movies on? Can't do without it.

Physical keyboard that somehow also isn't a physical keyboard? Sure.

It has been a most fantastically creative ride for us all, sparking a genius for invention we may never have realised we possessed. It's somewhat akin to the lead-up to the first of the Star Wars prequels, when everyone knew exactly how they wanted the movie to go, right down to dialogue and finely-choreographed lightsabre duels.

OK, maybe I shouldn't have brought The Phantom Menace into it. It largely disappointed people and of course we all hope the slablet will not. But how many people, driven by that vision of what they wanted Star Wars to be, ended up writing stories or screenplays of their own? How many created their own films? George Lucas may have given us Jar Jar, but he inspired creativity, just as Steve Jobs has done (my candidate for Steve Jobs's Jar Jar would be iPod socks — hop over to the forum if you have a better suggestion).

In a day, we will see what the engineers at Apple have produced, bound as they are by laws of physics, realities of economics and the fact that the world doesn't run on fairy dust. We will see the actual object — if indeed there is an actual object — and we will see what it can do. The reality almost certainly will not match the fantasies of the past few years of imagining.

So enjoy this last day while you can. Imagine that anything is possible while it still is.

And after the house lights go up at Yerba Buena, start imagining the next thing.

Discuss this with me at MacTheForum!

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