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Full Nelson: Apple's Tablet Is Naturally Corporate

With a Kindle-thin device that can play music and serve books and navigate the Web and run enterprise-class apps, you've got your Burberry satchel and away you go. But there are caveats.

Apple had plenty to be giddy about on its earnings call on Monday. There was the 50% rise in earnings compared with the year-earlier quarter, and company executives could barely contain themselves when analysts, one after the other, tried to bait them into tablet talk. What was most striking was the uptick in corporate iPhone acceptance--70% of the Fortune 100, 50% of the Financial Times 100, Apple cited. Given that momentum, the company's expected sleek, supersized iPhone tablet, like no other recent Apple product before it, has a good shot at gaining even faster corporate acceptance. And that's one of the reasons we're following this unfolding story, and why I'll be blogging live from the press event being held on Wednesday.

Companies are taking a serious look at NetBooks, especially for frequent travelers who already have enough to lug around without the laptops and accessories that make them look like they're headed to a summit climb. Smartphones, as powerful as they are, usually don't cut it for people away from the office for more than a day. A BlackBerry is great for jotting off an e-mail, but terrible for Web browsing; reverse that for the iPhone.

Enter the iSlate tablet (allegedly). If all its apps come through the Apple-vetted iTunes store (thus reducing the risk of bugs and security issues, at least at the app level), and everything else works like an iPhone, then it should be an easy sell to enterprises. Arguably, so would an Android-based tablet, which may offer a more open ecosystem.

With a Kindle-thin device that can play music and serve books and newspapers and navigate the Web and serve as an imminently useful communications tool (can it be a videoconference node?) and run enterprise-class applications, suddenly you've got your Burberry satchel and away you go.

Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, because for that to work, Apple needs a battery strategy that makes sense (my colleague David Berlind talks about that, and other necessary features here; it needs user input mechanisms that are more natural (my colleague Alex Wolfe talks about that here); it needs carrier partners that can handle the fat apps and provide multimedia bandwidth (my colleagues Eric Zeman and David Gardner talk about the possibility of new carriers here and here); and it needs an even broader PARTNER? ecosystem. Ideally, at some point, the device also needs to be made of more flexible components (watch this video for a prototype example) so that it's as portable as a phone. I liked how Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, called tablets "almost as portable as a phone."

Is Apple about to follow Amazon and Microsoft into the tablet market? Fritz Nelson will be live blogging at Apple's big announcement, starting at 12 PM ET on Wednesday. Get all the details, including pictures from the event, as they unfold.

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Which leads us back to what we'll hear on Wednesday. Every question asked of Apple is met with a muted acknowledgement about a brand new product, and little else, and yet this has been the most-talked-about, leaked-about product in the company's history. Apple has played us all like its puppets, and we've enjoyed every minute of it like the masochists we are. On the earnings call Monday, Apple executives repeatedly answered tablet questions by saying they didn't want to spoil the surprise. If there are still any surprises left besides the size of the screen, or the degree to which it will be multi-touch or capacitive, then that might be the biggest surprise of all.

One more thing... maybe there are some surprises in store. This will be the first Apple press announcement I've attended, but it always seems there's something extra up that turtleneck sleeve. If this is, as some suspect, Steve Jobs' final "one-more-thing," then I'm not going to bet against a little shock and awe. Stay tuned for Wednesday's live blog.

Fritz Nelson is the Editorial Director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

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