Both personally and professionally, I'm most intrigued to figure out what the Apple tablet will deliver in terms of music and media playback. Will it run a full version of iTunes, or act more like an iPod or iPhone as an extension of your personal media collection?
We aren't going to know the concrete details for sure until next week, but the rumor mill is at least getting some good speculative grist.
First up, we have a rumor from Electronista and Digital Music News pointing to iTunes LP support on the tablet. Currently, the interactive LP format Apple launched last September can only be viewed through your computer, and is not supported by mobile products such as the iPhone and iPod Touch.
I think the iTunes LP has been a misfit format on the computer, and I'm glad to hear that it might break out of the box. As a fan of vinyl LPs, a big part of my retro obsession is being able to hold and appreciate the album artwork from the comfort of my living room chair. Sitting in front of a computer and pointing and clicking around iTunes just doesn't offer the same relationship with the media.
Now, whether or not people care about albums anymore still remains to be seen. But if iTunes LPs do make it onto the tablet, I expect that will spur more interest in the format for both consumers and record labels. The Apple tablet will undoubtedly be the "show-off" product of 2010, and users will find it hard to resist downloading at least a few iTunes LPs just for the thrill of impressing friends.
The second important tablet rumor music fans should be aware of comes from a TechCrunch interview with Michael Robertson, CEO of the music locker site MP3tunes. Michael seems certain that Apple is working on an iTunes update that will take advantage of the music-upload and fingerprint technology from Apple's recent acquisition, Lala. Like Lala's own music-scanning tool, the new iTunes feature would examine your music collection, upload any material it doesn't already have in its vast library, and give you the capability to stream your music from Apple's servers to any of your iTunes compatible wireless devices.
What the TechCrunch article doesn't point out is the unlikelihood that Apple would provide this iTunes cloud service free of charge. It makes more sense that this would get rolled out as a feature of Apple's existing MobileMe service.
At $99 a year, MobileMe doesn't come cheap. But if the service promised music fans the ability to have a central, cloud-based back-up of all their music files, plus the ability to stream everything to their iPhone, iPod Touche, tablet, PC, or Mac, then it could solve some very real issues for people.
For example, a cloud-based iTunes music library solves the problem of storage, especially for users with music collections that run in the hundreds of gigabytes. Even users with modest music libraries may be able to leverage the MobileMe service to offload music playback to the cloud, and get by with a lower-cost, lower-capacity iPhone (8GB), thus expanding the appeal of the iPhone and seemingly lowering the cost of entry.
It could also solve the problem of the scattered music collections most users have between the multiple computers in their lives, by automatically linking them all to a master collection, or perhaps syncing media across computers via the cloud. Considering that many iTunes users are already at a breaking point when it comes to syncing media across their iPods and iPhones, it makes sense that Apple would want to address the problem before throwing a completely new type of device (a tablet) into the mix.