The return of Apple Rumor #3

Here’s something fun to do. Google the phrase Rumor #3. Here, I’ll make it easy: Click here.

The top result is a link to a two-year old RexBlog page called All the Apple Rumors You’ll Ever Need. It’s a list of popular rumors that get recycled before any event during which a new Apple product could be announced.

Many of the rumors (the ones with strike-though lines) have made it out of Cupertino and into our pockets or onto our desk- and table-tops. Others rumors haven’t. (And despite it coming to the forefront as recently as yesterday, I’m hoping the #12 rumor (Steve Jobs is retiring) will not be a reality for many years to come.)

However, it’s the #3 rumor that I enjoy most seeing reappear year after year — the “something like an oversized iPod” rumor. Yesterday, the rumor got a supersize re-kindling (bad pun) from Michael Arrington of TechCrunch who says he has it from not two but three independent sources “close to Apple” that a larger format iPod Touch device “will launch in Fall ’09”.

For 2+ years, I’ve enjoyed helping spread this rumor any way I can. Actually, when I started helping to spread it, there really wasn’t a rumor, it was more like a kernel of a rumor. I started doing speculative blogging about such a device in the summer of 2006 when I wrote a post about engadget’s claim of a rumor that Apple was developing an eBook reader. I thought that was a ridiculous idea as a slightly larger formatted iPod with a horizontal screen filling a full side of the device would not only be the perfect eBook reader, it would be the perfect eBook reader PLUS everything else a computer does. (A note of context: the iPhone and iPod Touch, the first iPod with a horizontal screen filling an entire side of an iPod, were not announced until six and 12 months after that post.)

The more I’ve written about Rumor #3, the more I’ve grown to love the concept of the device. Many people have e-mailed me to say that no such device is needed — that an iPhone or iPod Touch is already such a device. But they miss the point of a larger form factor. And, frankly, so did I before using a Kindle for the past year.

Speaking of the Kindle, in November of 2007, after the launch of the Amazon Kindle, I described and mocked-up the rumor #3 concept I hoped Apple was developing and gave it the fictitious name iPod Touchbook. Unbeknownst to me, my concept wasn’t unique as others comp’d up similar concepts before and after I did and gave them lots of names that play around with Apple-like product names, like the MacBook Nano.

Now that I’ve used an Amazon Kindle for a year, I am now completely convinced that the 15+ year prediction of eBook readers catching on right-around-the-corner may finally be right-around-the-corner. After using the Kindle for a year, I’m more convinced than ever that Apple will make it happen, not Amazon.

But Apple will never market a device that is solely an eBook reader. Even if Amazon has been successful with the Kindle (if you can call success selling out of a product a month before two Christmases in a row), the total sales of the device wouldn’t be enough to convince Steve Jobs that the eBook reader market is worth the attention of Apple. And he’d be correct.

However, Apple will sell a device that competes with this holiday season’s smash hit among the geeky early-adapter crowd: the under $500 stripped down notebook computers called netbooks. But rather than cannibalize real Macbooks, Apple probably believes (translation: “knows”) it can disrupt the netbook marketplace with something way cooler and less stripped-down-feelish: a touch screen device with the iPod brand. As I’ve said for two years, this will not be a tablet Mac. Forget that. Tablet PCs aren’t even successful in terms of overall PC notebook marketshare. Why would Apple go after a micro-niche of a meaningless niche.

As I noted last year at length, from a hardware and software standpoint, Apple’s device will be able to leap over anything Amazon can ever hope to do with the Kindle. However, if we all lived in a land called “Common Sense,” I’d think the two companies — and all the other potential eBook reader and Netbook makers — would agree on an open version of the Amazon-owned ebook mobipocket format as iPhones and Kindles both display the format. The rub is, the version of mobipocket files downloaded via Amazon.com is an encrypted version of mobipocket called AZW that can’t be viewed on other devices (but, please correct me if I’m wrong). Rather about adding proprietary DRM formatting to create two versions of mobipocket, an iTunes version and an Amazon version, they both should agree on one format (preferably without DRM) and then fight it out over such consumer-centric issues as price or buyer experience. No doubt to me that in such a war, Apple will win the hardware battle. But on the “buyer experience” front, Amazon has convinced me that their 13 years of learning what books I like to read is more than enough to keep me a loyal customer for book downloads. In other words, I’d love to buy eBooks from Amazon to read on my iPod TouchBook from Apple.

That would be the best of both e- and i-worlds.