Medialoper’s Guide to Unicorn Watching

Unicorn watching tips Forget the Super Bowl. Tomorrow is the big game.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a Blackberry you’re aware that tomorrow is the day that Apple unveils its highly anticipated new product. After nearly three years of speculation, tomorrow is the day we all get to see…the Unicorn.

Rumors abound about the alleged capabilities of this mythical beast. Some say that it can fly. Others have suggested that it’s invisible. Those same people insist that it’s already here and we just can’t see it yet. There is actually a rumor floating around the net theorizing that tomorrow morning when Steve Jobs walks onto the stage to introduce us to his new creation, a shiny new Apple tablet will materialize in each of our homes. These invisible unicorns have apparently been hiding in the corner for months just waiting for the right moment to come out and meet us.

Steve Ballmer will bow down to this supernatural new technology. Pat Robertson will condemn it as satanic. Newt Gingrich will buy three.

As for you and me? Who knows. Whether or not this “revolutionary” new product actually transforms our lives in the ways that we’ve been lead to believe it might, depends on any number of things.

Here are a few of the things I’ll be looking for to determine whether the Apple tablet turns out to be a unicorn or a duck-billed platypus.

  • Price: Who cares what it’s called? The only thing that really matters at this point is how much it costs. Let’s be honest, in this economy, if the price is $1,000 this will be a niche product at best. Carrier subsidies could lower up-front price. If subsidies are part of the business model, let’s hope that Apple gives consumers multiple carrier options. AT&T would be a dealbreaker for many of us.
  • Positioning: The next question a logical person might ask is, “what the hell am I supposed to do with this thing?” When I hit the road I usually take my laptop and my iPhone. Is there a reason why I’d need to pack a third device? The tablet will be too big to be carried in a pocket, yet will lack the features needed to replace a laptop (a physical keyboard is a must for many). Look for Jobs to explain how this device is supposed to fit into our lifestyles. As it stands, I can almost imagine my Apple tablet collecting dust next to my Roomba with a dead battery.
  • Programming: Despite all of their cool devices, Apple isn’t just about hardware. iTunes has been a critical part of Apple’s success in digital media. I expect we’ll see a further evolution of iTunes tomorrow. The media store will likely be expanded to include various types of subscription services — almost certainly for video, and possibly for music. And the App Store will evolve to accommodate a larger device. We may even see the introduction of that premium game store we’ve been hearing rumors about forever.
  • Publishers: One of the biggest questions about tomorrow’s event is how Apple will accommodate print publishers. Where do books, newspapers, and magazines fit into all of this? I suspect we may see premium App Store categories for preferred publishing partners, but it’s possible we might see a whole new iTunes store. An iTunes Newsstand perhaps?
  • The Unexpected: I know there’s supposed to be another P here, but I’m not about to go out on a limb and suggest that the Unicorn will have a Pixel Qi display (I’m saving that for my Kindle 3 predictions, due next month). Still, it’s entirely possible that Apple might deliver some heretofore unsuspected new technology that would truly be earth shattering. Possibilities might include an unexpected new display technology, an innovative input method, or a significant breakthrough in battery life. Any one of these things might transform the tablet from an expensive gadget into a must have device.

Whatever happens tomorrow, one thing is certain: the seemingly endless stream of Unicorn rumors will finally come to an end. Publishers sitting on the fence waiting to see what Apple produces will be out of excuses. After tomorrow it’s time to deliver.

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