Apple is just one of hundreds of companies that sell gadgets to consumers, and yet its following—while not the largest out there by any stretch—is certainly the most rabid and unabashedly devoted. So when rumors started swirling a couple of months ago that Apple is prepping to unveil a tablet-like device that’s a cross between an iTouch/iPhone and a laptop computer, well… let’s just say the blogosphere and the webby/tech press-o-sphere (just made that one up) can’t seem to get enough. Rumors are flying about what will be included and what won’t. People are speculating about whether its 7- or 8-inch screen will be big or small enough. Will it connect to 3G networks or just WiFi? Will it offer a virtual touchscreen keyboard like the iPhone or let users buy a separate tactile keyboard that essentially converts it into a laptop and back again. And what you’re thinking right now is this: What the heck does any of this have to do with cable? The answer is plenty, whether you realize it or not.

First of all, we all know that robust video lives freely on the iPhone and other smartphones. But that tiny screen doesn’t make it very enjoyable to watch more than a few minutes at a time (Great for YouTube; not so great for Hulu). There’s also the little problem that many smartphones, including the iPhone, don’t support Adobe Flash in a way that makes it easy to access video from random sources through a browser. In all, video on these devices is more than a novelty but less than a phenomenon. All of that could change if Apple manages to work its magic by creating a new class of device that displays video a bit like a small TV—all while retaining the interactivity of a computer and the simplicity of an iPhone. Apple is also zeroing in on Amazon’s successful Kindle—now the subject of a patent fight with Discovery founder John Hendricks. Apple could essentially blow the Kindle away by nailing its core e-book/e-newspaper/magazine function while also adding music, video, gaming and countless other apps that are already available through the iTunes App Store.

Apple has proven that it can create massive demand for its elegant and often game-changing devices. Cable operators and programmers are currently trying to figure out whether online/mobile video is a major threat and, if so, what to do about it. Operators are pushing TV Everywhere; programmers are mostly just trying to make sure they’re not left behind as consumers change their habits and increasingly use non-TV screens to watch their favorite shows. It’s unclear when Apple might introduce its new tablet device. Some speculate it will be any day now, perhaps even at the World Wide Developers Conference on June 8. Others sniff that it’s at least a year away. The latter seems more likely considering that Apple’s first priority is putting out a new version of the iPhone that will take advantage of its soon-to-launch 3.0 software. But cable should watch developments closely as Apple tries to merge the laptop, the Kindle and the iPhone into one simple and portable device in the coming months. TV Everywhere may happen anyway. Whether or not cable takes the lead.

(Shameless plug: We’ll be dissecting the TV Everywhere debate at our June 17 CableFAX webinar. More info here).

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