Apple is expected to unveil its latest piece of technical wizardry Wednesday, and many expect that the company's newest product will be a tablet-style computer to compete with Amazon's Kindle or Sony's Reader.
The speculation over what an Apple tablet might be capable of doing — or what it will be called, or what it might look like — doesn't end with publishing, but some are counting on the product as a potential savior of the beleaguered industry.
It may not be the second coming, but as one wag has already said, this is the most excitement a tablet has generated since Moses handed down the Ten Commandments.
"The Apple tablet seems to be making waves and changing business practices before it even gets announced," says Yair Reiner, an analyst for Oppenheimer & Co.
Oppenhimer trades Apple stock, and a few weeks ago, Reiner told investors that Apple was in discussion with major publishing companies about the tablet's potential as an e-book reader. According to Reiner, Apple was offering publishers a better deal for their e-books than they have been getting from Amazon, which dominates the e-book market with its Kindle.
The news came as other rumors were running rampant about the Apple tablet. Speculation has the product looking like an oversized iPhone, complete with all its applications.
"The hope is that Apple will do with e-books what it did with iTunes, which is make this very sexy and seamless and easy to use," says Craig Teicher, the editor of the blog eBookNewser.
The buzz around the Apple device might have its competitors feeling a little skittish. Amazon has said it too will offer better terms for publishers of e-books, as well as new applications for the Kindle — which up until now has been a single-purpose device.
These developments strike Michael Hyatt, the CEO of Thomas Nelson, a leading Christian book publisher, as nothing but good news.
"When Apple came out with the iPod and with iTunes there was really nobody that could match the technology and really compete," Hyatt says. "And what we have today is the clash of the titans."
Hyatt notes that until now, Amazon's grip on the e-book market has been so complete that publishers have had to accept its terms on everything, including the price of e-books.
"What that's done for us," Hyatt says, "is it's created an expectation on the part of the consumer that an e-book is only worth $9.99. And I think, probably, if all we're doing is delivering straight content as it appears in a physical book, that may be all it's worth. So it's going to call upon us as publishers to deliver more, but we want to be able to set the pricing."
If it lives up to the speculation, Apple's tablet may allow publishers to do just that. Reiner says the device could provide publishers the opportunity to give readers a richer e-book experience, including "author interviews, [and] unlimited amount of additional material like photographs and videos."
"I think that is pretty exciting for publishers, not just in terms of being able to perhaps charge more but also in terms of being able to perhaps make more interesting content that brings aboard new and different kinds of audiences," Reiner says.
In one example of how the tablet might help publishers evolve, a textbook company has created a video that shows how a student might highlight passages in texts, take notes and listen to a lecture, all on one hypothetical device.
Hyatt says the tablet might even enhance one perennial bestseller: the Bible.
"The Bible is full of opportunities to explain, to go further, to get behind the story, to provide the archaeological and historical background," he says. "So I think of all the products that we produce, the Bible lends itself to this format more readily."
Teicher, the blogger, says the promise that Apple's device will perform more functions than dedicated e-readers like the Kindle will allow users to do more — and buy more than just books, especially if Apple starts selling e-books in its iTunes store the way Amazon provides a store for Kindle users.
"Maybe you have an iTunes portal that you buy your music and your e-books and your podcasts and your movies all at the same time and just dump them onto this device and then get on the train," Teicher says.
If Apple's tablet turns out to be everything publishers and techies are dreaming of, it could make e-book readers like the Kindle seem as quaint as a paper book.