If anything has become clear over the last six months it's that people are chomping at the bit for a new kind of device, one that brings the Web to them wherever they are but without the compromises currently required by cell phones (too small), netbooks (require a table or desk) or Kindle/Nook style e-readers (too limited and goofy looking).
Hence the near delirium that strikes whenever word of a new "Web tablet" arises -- starting with the "CrunchPad/JooJoo," the Microsoft Courier, various alleged Google Android devices, and the Apple "iSlate" (or iGuide, iTablet, or whatever else Apple is supposedly calling it this week). It's the new holy grail of computing: a clipboard-sized keyboard-free device that delivers Web sites, magazine articles, textbooks, TV shows, and anything else you can imagine. Major print publishers are already gearing up for this device, whatever it turns out to be, and the news this month ought to be particularly interesting.
Tomorrow Google will apparently unveil not a tablet but its own made-to-order cell phone: the Nexus One. From what I can gather from Web previews, it looks like a really cool phone. But that's all -- not a tablet or a world-changing device, but just a really cool phone. Still, anything you can do on a 4-inch Android-driven touch screen you can port pretty easily to an 8- or 10- or 12-inch tablet.
Today comes news that at CES Freescale Semiconductor plans to unveil its own "dead simple Web tablet for under $200," to quote the CrunchPad's erstwhile daddy, Michael Arrington. Of course, it's just a concept device; announcing something at CES and actually getting a) manufacturers to build it, and b) consumers to buy it are two very different things. (You can ask Arrington about that.) But it's an interesting development nonetheless, if hardware vendors decide to do something about it.
Meanwhile, rumors swirl that Apple is planning something involving a black turtleneck and "one more thing" on Jan. 26. Then again, maybe the company is finally bringing the Beatles to iTunes. Or maybe Steve Jobs will announce he's had the rest of his internal organs replaced with cybernetic equivalents. Still, a lot of Apple fanboys are hoping their dreams of an Apple Tablet will finally bear fruit.
The most interesting part of all of this -- again if those persistent Web rumors are to be believed -- is that Google plans to offer an unlocked, unsubsidized version of the Nexus One (or whatever it's called) to consumers. In other words, Google may be entering the consumer hardware biz, thus competing directly with Apple.
In other words, forget Microsoft, Yahoo, or MicroHoo. The battle for world domination will boil down to Apple vs. Google -- with a few minor players like Amazon in there to raise the ante.
Oh they won't be alone. Like a wildebeest at a watering hole, Microsoft will eventually stick its nose in the air, catch a whiff of what Apple and Google are doing, and strong-arm its hardware partners into producing their own Windows Live Tablets -- two years late and burdened by a slow, complex-yet-condescending interface. Sony will quietly release a product that does almost everything people want, price it too high, market it poorly, and totally fail. A few minor players will jump in, and eventually tablets will become a commodity like everything else eventually does.
The real innovation, though, will come from a no-holds-barred catfight between the Googlers of Mountain View and the Appletons of Cupertino. That ought to be fun to watch.
Will all this really come to pass? We'll know in just a few weeks. Probably.
This story, "World Domination Boils Down to Apple vs. Google" was originally published by InfoWorld.