After nearly a decade of feverish speculation, Apple will reportedly unveil its touch-screen tablet PC this Wednesday at 10 a.m. at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater. While Apple is still stubbornly refusing to confirm the device's existence, eight years of media "tablet rumors" provide a vivid — though often highly inaccurate — idea of what it may do. Here, a concise guide to the crazy anticipation this would-be masterpiece has inspired: (Watch the latest, and best, of the fake "TV commercials" fans have created)
Sept. 2002: When a reporter from the International Herald Tribune asks Apple CEO Steve Jobs if Apple plans to make a tablet computer, Jobs blurts out: "Do you want to handwrite all your e-mail? We have all the technology...we just don't know whether it will be successful."
Jan. 2003: eWeek's Matthew Rothenberg soberly reports that Apple plans to introduce "a device that superficially resembles a large iPod with an 8-inch diagonal screen" before the end of 2003.
Jan. 2003: "Apple has all the pieces in place to deliver a tablet-like computer [at the 2003 MacWorld conference]", teases CNET. Among those "pieces": Apple's proprietary Inkwell handwriting technology, first used in the (failed) Newton PDA.
Apr. 2003: The mythical tablet grows in size. According to a sketchy report in DigiTimes, Apple plans to start shipping a 15-inch "tablet PC-like device" — with a "a detachable keyboard" — in the first quarter of 2004.
Nov. 2003: The much-anticipated device takes on an aura of intimacy when tech guru Robert Cringley reveals that the Apple tablet will let a user "watch TV in his bathroom."
Aug. 2004: A dogged UK-based tech reporter discovers that Apple has filed for European trademark protection of "an iBook screen minus the body of the computer;" excitedly predicts that the long-awaited tablet will soon appear on the horizon.
May 2005: Rumors that the Apple tablet will be powered by Intel swarm their way across tech blogs.
Jan. 2006: A patent, seemingly filed by Apple, for a new variety of accelerometer — the technology that determines how iPhone screens display information — sparks new hypotheses worthy of Inspector Hercule Poirot.
Nov. 2006: Tech blogs circulate rumors that Apple has an "full working prototype" of the tablet "with plans for 2007 launch."
Sept. 2007: Bringing up unhappy memories for some consumers, Apple Insider calls the increasingly tardy Apple tablet the "return of the Newton"— modernized with a high-resolution screen 1.5 times larger than that of an iPhone.
Nov. 2007: A shadowy developmental partner enters the scene. According to CNET UK, computer-maker Asus "is helping Apple build a tablet PC." The site admits, however, that it's "tempted to ignore all Apple rumors because there are just so many of them."
Dec. 2007: The quixotic tablet shrinks again. Citing "several different sources," financial website Seeking Alpha claims the device's screen will now max out at a modest 5.2 inches. That said, it's a "touch screen" that consumers will be able to touch in only "6-8 months."
July 2008: On a conference call, heretofore cagey Apple executives mention that they are "very excited" about a new product line, stoking speculation that a tablet known as a "MacBook Touch" would hit stores that fall.
Dec. 2008: The rumors become a blur. TechCrunch drones on about "independent sources," "a large iPod Touch device," and "the Fall of 09."
Apr. 2009: The Wall Street Journal throws its considerable weight behind the gossip, reporting that Apple CEO Steve Jobs is overseeing the production of a portable device that is smaller than a laptop "but bigger than the iPhone or iPod Touch."
May 2009: Silicon Alley Insider gives tell of an alleged "media pad" device "more robust" than the iPhone; cites a 2010 delivery date.
July 2009: Corroborating details start to emerge. An Apple tablet computer with a "9-inch to 10-inch screen" will be sold through Verizon Wireless, says TheStreet.com.
Aug. 2009: How many tablets will there be? Gizmodo alleges that Apple will produce 13- and 15-inch versions, as well as the long-rumored 10-inch model.
Sept. 2009: A Taiwanese site reports a price tag between $799 and $999; confidently states a February 2010 ship date. American web editors envy in-the-know Taiwanese ones.
Oct. 2009: In The New York Times, Apple engineer Joshua A. Strickland confirms that the Apple tablet has been a work-in-progress "since at least 2003."
Oct. 2009: NYT editor Bill Keller lets it slip that the Times is preparing to exploit new technologies such as "the impending Apple slate," sparking rumors that the Times is somehow in bed with Apple.
Jan. 4, 2010: The WSJ reports that the Apple tablet will ship in March, and cost $1000. Many tech sites express shock at the higher-than-expected price.
Jan. 11, 2010: France Télécom and Orange executive Stéphane Richard confirms in a radio interview that Apple "will be launching" its "tablet device" later in January. He later steps back from his declaration, saying that he was "simply acknowledging the speculation regarding a tablet and [my] company's wish to support it if it does exist."
Jan. 13, 2010: Scoop-hungry website Gawker offers $20,000 to anyone who can provide it with legitimate photos of the Apple tablet — and $100,000 to anyone who'll let their editors "play with one for an hour."
Jan. 14, 2010: Apple "indirectly confirms" the existence of its mythical tablet by serving Gawker with a cease and desist letter for their tablet "scavenger hunt," saying the contest encourages "the theft of Apple's trade secrets."
Jan. 19, 2010: Is the long-reported name "iSlate" inaccurate? MacRumors offers new evidence that Apple may have chosen "iPad." Countless tech blogs jump on the "iPad" bandwagon, while female bloggers question the feminine protection connotations.
Jan. 21, 2010: Shakeup!? Fox News reports that "Apple is in talks with both AT&T and Verizon to support the tablet," possibly marking an end to AT&T's exclusivity deal with Apple.
Jan. 24. 2010: Claims that Steve Jobs has called the device "the most important thing I've ever done" clog Twitter.
Jan. 25. 2010: The New York Times confirms rumors that the Apple tablet will run all iPhone apps, connect wirelessly to 3G cellphone networks, and feature a 10-inch color display. Meanwhile, practical questions plague Gizmodo: "How are we supposed to hold this thing?"
Jan. 25, 2010: A convincing — but completely fake — "TV commercial" for the "iPad" debuts. Fools no one. Will January 27th never come?