The Apple Tablet: Light Bulb or Segway?

03/20/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I'm typing this on a Mac, so I have a bias when I say that Steve Jobs is a genius, but I also have evidence: the original Mac, System X, iPod, iPhone and Pixar. And so it's predictable that I would join the other Apple-ites in rapt salivation over the mysterious 27 January announcement. Could this be the technological tablet suitable for a 21st Century Ten Commandments, the final word in a field of broken (and forgettable) idols?

Because this mysterious piece of silica and steel will issue from the mighty Cupertino, it's entirely possible. This could be a 'light bulb' moment in the history of personal computing. If so, I'm betting that we'll see something totally unanticipated as the prognosticators tend to guess wrong, at least regarding what soon to be released Apple products will look like. (For laughs, its worth going back to look at what people imagined that the iPhone would look like.)

On the other hand, the last time I can recall so much panting and speculation before the release of a product, the outcome was the Segway personal transporter. Dean Kamen promised us a revolution in humanity and the froth of anticipation was ridiculous by the December 2001 premier. Today, of course, you'd be hard pressed to find a Segway, and there's a rumor that the manufacturer may have just sold itself to a single, English dealership. It would be fair to call that an ignominious ending.

Whatever the mystery Apple device turns out to be, it's almost certainly not going to bomb like the Segway did. The company is simply too good at marketing, sales and distribution; and its track record is too good, Apple TV aside. But even genius has its limits, and its just possible that this product will not be the best thing since sliced bread. That wouldn't make Apple a bad or even a mediocre company, just one run by mere mortals.