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What is the Ultimate Role of the Apple Tablet?

While we normally avoid purely speculative pieces here on MacRumors, John Gruber has posted a particularly interesting opinion piece on what void or need the Apple Tablet might fill. Gruber acknowledges that this is not based on inside knowledge, but he is certain that a Tablet project is in the works and describes a "cone of silence" surrounding all those involved in the project.

Exactly what purpose or role an Apple tablet will fulfill is a legitimate question that has been raised on a number of occasions. Since other company's tablets have so far been commercially unsuccessful, what could Apple bring to the table that will suddenly make them a success? Steve Jobs himself has previously questioned what they were good for besides surfing the web in the bathroom.

Gruber believes the upcoming Apple Tablet will replace the low end of Apple's portable computer market which is currently held by the MacBook and instead focus on some core functionality and do it well.

And so in answer to my central question, regarding why buy The Tablet if you already have an iPhone and a MacBook, my best guess is that ultimately, The Tablet is something youll buy instead of a MacBook.

Like all Apple products, The Tablet will do less than we expect but the things it does do, it will do insanely well. It will offer a fraction of the functionality of a MacBook but that fraction will be way more fun.

Apple clearly has been able to reinvent a class of product like they did with the MP3 player (iPod) and mobile phone (iPhone), and people are certainly hoping they will be able to do the same thing with the Tablet. Much of the differentiation of these products was done in software, so we agree with Gruber that the Tablet OS can't and won't simply be a scaled up iPhone OS or scaled down Mac OS.

One common prediction I disagree with is that The Tablet will simply be more or less an iPod Touch with a much bigger display. But in the same way that it made no sense for Apple to design the iPhone OS to run Mac software, it makes little sense for a device with a 7-inch (let alone larger) display to run software designed for a 3.5-inch display.

Exactly how that will be accomplished, of course, is the big secret.

Apple is rumored to be launching their Tablet in 2010 and Steve Jobs has been described as being extremely happy with the upcoming device.