By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
October 5, 2009

The killer quote — or rather paraphrase — in Brad Stone and Ashlee Vance’s properly skeptical story in Monday’s
New York Times
about the new interest in tablet computing is the one attributed to Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs.

Although he killed the Newton — Apple’s early entry in the field — when he returned to the company in 1997, Jobs allowed work on a new tablet to begin in 2003, according to this story.

But the prototypes kept getting shelved, according to an unnamed former Apple executive who was there at the time, “because Mr. Jobs, whose incisive critiques are often memorable, asked, in essence, what they were good for besides surfing the Web in the bathroom.”

What indeed?

The iPhone and its growing list of competitors are wonderfully suited for surfing the Web in the bathroom — or in the park, at the beach or at Starbucks — and they have the virtue of fitting in a pocket. For more serious work that requires extended typing, there is no shortage of lightweight laptop computers to choose from.

“A road warrior doesn’t want to take a big clamshell netbook with him,” Frédéric Balaÿ, told the Times. But as vice president for marketing at Archos, a French company that launched a tablet running Google’s (GOOG) Android operating system in June, he’s hardly a disinterested party.

As an occasional road warrior who is never far from his MacBook Pro, I don’t know what I’d do with a tablet that doesn’t have a keyboard.

Jobs is believed to be personally supervising work on a new tablet — said to be set for release early next year — that promises, as the Times puts it, to “save the newspaper and book publishing industries, present another way to watch television and movies, play video games, and offer a visually rich way to enjoy the Web and the expanding world of mobile applications.”

I’ll believe it when I see it.

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