We're already dipping our toes in November, and there isn't an iTablet to be found.
Don't blame Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) . It's not the one speculating on the portable computing device. Everyone else seems to be writing about Apple's tablet, even though the company has never promised one.
Maybe it's just that it makes too much sense. A year ago, Steve Jobs said that he had no interest in joining the hot netbook market because Apple "doesn't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk, and our DNA will not let us ship that."
However, now that netbooks, smartphones, and e-book readers are gaining in popularity, there is a logical push to create a gadget that consolidates many of these features. A flat touchscreen Apple device that can check email, display the morning paper, and stream video of your nephew's birthday party would be cool, but -- for now -- it's not real.
Apple has never been one to rush a product to market, so it's a pretty safe bet to cross off an iTablet from your holiday wish list.
Apple is blowing a huge opportunity here. As cool as Apple may be, it can't afford to drag its feet with what even the executive editor at New York Times' (NYSE: NYT ) namesake publication -- a newspaper giant that would be privy to any behind-the-scenes chatter of an iTablet with digital reader intentions -- calls "the impending Apple slate."
Waiting is the hardest part
No matter what any Apple fan may tell you, Apple doesn't have the luxury of time.
It doesn't have to be first. Even if the iTablet is similar to Hewlett-Packard's (NYSE: HPQ ) new DreamScreen, Apple has earned the right to a fashionably late entry among its computing peers. Plus, its scope will be far larger than HP's constrained tablet entry.
The reason that the clock is ticking on the iTablet is that the competitive landscape is already shaking out this holiday season -- with or without Jobs' tardy slip.
Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) has slashed the price of its Kindle three times, a 35% haircut since its debut two years ago. There is no way that Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS ) would be pricing its presumably superior Nook at the same $259 price point if Amazon wasn't trigger happy with its pricing gun. Is this going to impact Apple's pricing? Yes. The iTablet is going to cost more -- likely a lot more -- because it's Apple and the slate will likely do so much more than just display books, newspapers, and magazines. However, lower prices will help the Kindle and Nook penetrate the market at a brisk pace. Once someone invests $259 in an e-book reader, they are unlikely to make another hardware investment for similar functionality in the near future.
So what if the iTablet can interact with social networks, stream last night's V debut, and mix a dirty martini -- consumers won't just snap up any device because there's a partially bitten apple logo on it. If you don't believe me, wipe the cobwebs off the Apple TV.
Can Apple be following in Palm's footsteps?
Delaying the iTablet may find Apple repeating Palm's (Nasdaq: PALM ) lackluster Pre debut. Palm's smartphone should have been a winner. Between the operating system's multitasking functionality and its choice to go with a cheaper carrier, Palm could challenge Apple and Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) on spec sheets and wireless pricing. Unfortunately, most of the consumers that can afford smartphones had already made their choice between the iPhone and BlackBerry, with the two-year contracts to show for it.
It may be true that e-readers and existing Wi-Fi-tethered tablet PCs aren't hog-tying users to multiyear commitments. However, Apple risks either entering a market where the demand isn't there (as in the Apple TV or the Newton) or the suppliers are overwhelmingly entrenched.
I'm sure that when the iTablet sees the light of day -- and it will, bet on it -- Apple will draw long lines and gushing reviews. It may very well be the one device that bridges the gap between the MacBook and the iPhone in a way that only the Cupertino crusaders can. It just needs to be a little more impatient here. Ticking clocks can become time bombs.
The costs of being a no-show for the 2009 holiday season are lower prices and higher expectations for the 2010 season. It also gives every rival more time to satisfy the market, with or without binding two-year contracts.