iPod, iPhone, iTablet: Apple's Hardware Hat Trick?

An exaggeration, of course, but the proliferation of hype surrounding Apple's Jan. 27 event to show off its "latest creation" is evidence of just how much influence Apple has in the market these days.

Even Apple's "invitation," a company logo on top of paint splatters and splotches, has become a well-known image in the blogosphere.

It's one thing to create a lot of hype. It's quite another thing for the hype to live up to reality in the marketplace. Thus far, Apple has two big hits in this regard with the iPod and the iPhone. Could the so-called iTablet give the company a hardware hat trick? All things considered, Apple has the track record -- and the fan base -- to make it happen.

At CES 2010, many other PC makers looked to steal Apple's thunder by unveiling their own tablet PCs at the show. Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft even used the term "slate" to describe their joint product, after which reports surfaced that Apple had preliminary plans to call its tablet by that name. So clearly, whatever Apple's up to is on the minds of its competitors.

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But if Apple's previous home runs are any indication, an iTablet will be more than the touch-screen notebook that seems to be the direction its competitors are headed. Scant details so far involve a device resembling a large iPhone with a 10-inch touch screen. Rumors also abound that Apple will scrap the Mac OS in favor of running the iPhone's operating system in order to take advantage of its successful App Store and deliver rich, multimedia content on demand.

If Apple can truly get a mass consumer audience, as well as the business community, to adopt a game-changing PC interface, it will have done more than scored a hat trick. It might actually win the game.