Ina Fried

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Secretive TabCo Gets Closer to Big Reveal

For some months now, a PR campaign has been touting a new tablet entry coming from a mysterious entity dubbed TabCo.

In YouTube videos, emails and Web pages, TabCo is pitched as bringing something new to a crowded field that already includes the iPad, TouchPad, PlayBook and a number of Android tablets from Samsung, Motorola, HTC, Toshiba and others. The latest video, posted on Wednesday, shows current tablet buyers as lemmings blindly following the same path, in a video evocative of Apple’s iconic 1984 ad for the Macintosh.

But just what does TabCo have up its sleeve?

The big reveal for TabCo is set for Aug. 15, but AllThingsD has managed to gather a few facts on the company’s forthcoming product.

On the hardware side, TabCo’s product will have many of the usual features, including Wi-Fi and optional 3G connectivity, support for Bluetooth and USB, as well as its own suite of apps for editing and viewing documents, photos and videos.

The big thing that sets it apart, I’m told, is its software and what insiders call a “predictive user interface.” The design is said to anticipate user needs to help perform tasks such as Web searches, buying products or getting directions.

That said, I haven’t seen a product, touched one or even determined whether it is a large company or a start-up behind TabCo. I am pretty sure it is not this optical products company, this auto body parts firm, nor the Teachers Association of Baltimore County.

I can say that the company is playing a high-risk game with all of its antics. Such activities can — and have — built buzz for new technologies even before anything is known about the actual product. That said, such pitches often spin out of hand, with the hype building so much that the eventual product can hardly help but fail to meet expectations.

Microsoft tried such an approach in the middle of the last decade with Project Origami, which was later revealed to be a pricey handheld touch computer. Though in many ways a precursor to the iPad, the initial batch of Origami devices were too expensive, hard to manipulate via only one’s fingers, and had embarrassingly short battery life.

Perhaps because the Origami devices were so far short of expectations, Microsoft essentially dropped the project rather than continue to iterate and plug away — a decision that the company might be regretting after seeing Apple enjoy the riches from a tablet market that Microsoft spent years working to create.

The Segway, too, was built up to legendary proportions before it was revealed, with leaks suggesting that luminaries like Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs believed the product could change the world and cause cities to be designed differently. In the end, the Segway proved to be a niche success at best as a platform for security guards, mail carriers and tourists looking for a unique way to see the sights.

So, TabCo — or whoever you are — you’ve got our attention. Now it’s up to you to deliver something that keeps it.

Update: Reader David Miller accurately points out that while TabCo’s ad is somewhat reminiscent of the 1984 Super Bowl ad, it is far more similar to a 1985 Apple ad called “lemmings.”

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— Gitesh Pandya of comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”