What mythical product will simultaneously kill off the Kindle, iPod, Zune, iPod, Nintendo DS, and a whole slew of cheap netbooks? Oh, and during recharges, it'll save newspapers and magazines, reinvent TV viewing (and maybe deep-six the cable guys), and make mobile Web browsing a lot more enjoyable with a lot less finger dragging and pinching.

The answer, of course, is the mysterious and as-yet-unannounced Apple tablet, which reportedly will ship next year, according to ongoing rum ors from numerous sources. Steve Jobs himself is said to be spearheading the project.

CNN on Monday was the latest media outlook to speculate on Apple's hottest non-product. The report didn't dredge up any new details, but it did provide a clear indication of the tech industry's high expectations for the mysterious device.

CNN's David Goldman quotes several industry watchers, some bullish on the tablet, others skeptical. What's interesting is how much the optimists see the tablet as a potential tech industry game-changer:

"This will be the next big thing," said Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC. "Apple is going to wow everybody with the tablet."

And then there's this quote:

"Apple will come out with the tablet and blow everyone away," said Dan Ackerman, senior editor at CNET.


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Now, neither DiDio nor Ackerman say they've seen a prototype of the Apple tablet, and yet they're convinced the product will be huge. To be fair, if they have seen it under a non-disclosure agreement, they couldn't say so. But given Apple's legendary secrecy with its unannounced products, I'll assume they haven't.

Apple's reputation for amazing the tech world is clearly the driving force behind the tablet's positive buzz. Then again, not everybody is upbeat about the prospects of a notebook-sized slate that may be awkward to carry around.

Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala tells CNN that multifunction devices seldom perform as well as their single-use counterparts. Example: Would an Apple tablet with a gorgeous, high-resolution color display and a (likely) limited battery life be a better e-book reader than a Kindle, which can last for days between charges?

I guess we'll find out soon enough. Personally, I'm excited to see what Apple has up its sleeve. The company has amazed us before. Can it do so again?