It could be the best thing for publishing since the invention of the Guttenberg Press. Then again it could be the ideal business tool, the perfect device for gaming, or the long-awaited gizmo that functions as the love child of the TV and computer worlds and makes all the myriad entertainment choices available on one screen.

And what will it be called? The iPad, iTablet, iSlate or perhaps the iWhatever? As geek sleuths around the world searched for information on Monday, the latest proof of the imminent wonder gadget came from mobile tracking firm Flurry, which found evidence of about 50 previously unidentified kinds of devices surfing the airwaves around Apple’s Silicon Valley headquarters.

All these possibilities have been breathlessly discussed on the internet since Apple announced an event earlier this month to unveil its “latest creation.” The cryptic invitations sparked a whirlwind of Tabletmania speculation on tech blogs, Twitter and newspapers, as though the latest Apple invention could single- handedly reimagine the landscape of consumer technology.

“I can’t wait for next week,” noted blogger John Aloysius Farrell, “and for Apple to turn my world upside down.” That’s not as preposterous a proposition as many might think.

Apple has a long track record of doing exactly that, from the days of the Macintosh through to the modern day transformations inspired by the all-in-one iMac in 1998, not to mention the iPod and iPhone.

Apple’s legendary secrecy means that there is little concrete evidence for the new product. But the overwhelming consensus is that Apple will announce a new type of tablet computer, designed primarily to be operated via a touch screen that will resemble an overgrown iPhone.

It will be able to surf the web, read electronic books, view digital videos and play games. It will be built around a 10-inch touch sensitive screen and have a long running battery. It will run a version of the Mac OS X operating system, and allow users to download applications through a version of the iPhone App Store.

The speculation puts the price of the tablet at between 600 to 1,000 dollars, with one notable analyst predicted that Apple will sell 5 million units in its first year, boosting revenue by 3 billion dollars.

But for the expectations to be met Apple’s iPad really has to define a new genre. Tablets have existed for at least 20 years, and have been seriously pushed by Microsoft and computer-makers for at least the last decade, with pretty miserable results. According to research firm IDC, they still only sold 1 million units per year in the US.

“Anticipation for an Apple Tablet resembles that of Moses bringing down the Ten Commandments,” wrote analyst Mike Abramsky of investment bank RBC Capital Markets. “Despite high expectations, we believe Apple plans to redefine portable computing — as the Mac redefined the PC — by ‘creating’ desire for a new converged portable device with innovative touch/gestures — with iTunes content.”

Apple has also reportedly brought major media companies in at the design stages of the device. These include The New York Times, Conde Naste and Harper Collins, who are all hoping to make their content more attractive to digital readers.

It may also be very useful for businesses, able to leverage the huge array of business apps that already exist for the iPhone and make them work in a larger, more powerful format.

Keywords: AppleiPadiPhoneTwitter