Welcome to the Golden Age of Vaporware

Apple Tablets? Google Phones? CrunchPads? Don't expect to find any of those under the tree come Christmas. But that won't stop people from writing about them.

I've been in this business for 357 years, but I can't recall a time when we've had more written about products that do not actually exist. We are truly living in the golden age of vaporware.

Exhibit A: This week TechCrunch's Michael Arrington caused a stir when he insisted -- really, he was almost banging his shoe on the table over it -- that Google would come out with its own cell phone, free and clear of any carrier. Per L'Arrington:

...there are a few things we have absolutely confirmed: Google is building their own branded phone that they’ll sell directly and through retailers. They were long planning to have the phone be available by the holidays, but it has now slipped to early 2010. The phone will be produced by a major phone manufacturer but will only have Google branding.

Never mind that this would totally tick off all the handset manufacturers and telecoms that have partnered with Google on Android phones. Because, I guess, Google is just that stupid.

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The reaction from most of the blogosphere was either a) Gee, there must really be a gPhone after all, or b) Is Arrington smoking crack?

PC Mag Editor in Chief Lance Ulanoff did not mince words in a rebuttal column:

If you say something, does it automatically make it so? Clearly, that's what TechCrunch's Michael Arrington thinks. Today, he proclaimed that "The Google Phone Is Very Real. And It's Coming Soon." The story outlines what TechCrunch has "absolutely confirmed" and then knits together a series of assumptions and possible clues into what appears to be a quilt of un-attributed fabrication.

And, because some people never truly graduated from junior high, Arrington responded via Twitter:

i'm seriously concerned for @lanceulanoff. If you're his friend, reach out to him. He needs to know someone loves him.

The next day, the Google cell phone became a WiFi-based VoIP phone, again according to TechCrunch. That would get around the "tick off the carriers" problem, at least. Naturally, no sources for this information are named.

Still, that pales in comparison to the reams of unsubstantiated gibberish that have been written about the Apple Tablet over the last three months. This week brought us more highly detailed rumors from DigiTimes about the mythical beast -- including its availability (2H 2010), specs (LCD & OLED touch screens -- wowsa!), and pricing ($2,000 for the OLED version -- double wowsa!).

So far, though, all we have to show for this excited blather is a lot of pixels and no molecules.

One reason rumors like these breed like bunnies is that we can't trust companies to tell us the truth. Witness Steve Jobs' vehement denials that Apple was getting into the phone business, when everyone knew that of course it was.

Thus the twisted logic goes: Since he's saying the same things about tablets, Apple must be coming out with one. So bloggers spend hours poring over the denials like they're hieroglyphics, looking to unlock some hidden meaning. And when someone seems to uncover some piece of the puzzle, everyone leaps on it and analyzes that. It's like a geeky version of National Treasure without Nic Cage and that blonde babe -- or, for that matter, a plot or a resolution.

Heck, they've got to write about something. Though in this case, they're really writing about nothing.

Some day, if an Apple Tablet does in fact materialize, I hope some archival/librarian type with too much time on his or her hands will gather up all the misinformation and outright lies that have been propagated about this mythical device. They could fill a phone book.

Finally we come to a product that was swaddled in a pool of vapor: Arrington's own CrunchPad. That's the "dead simple Web tablet for less than $200" he began creating back in July 2008, which was supposed to arrive this past summer.

After months of silence from Arrington (who can't seem to keep his mouth shut about anything and probably reports unsubstantiated rumors in his sleep), it was assumed that the project had quietly plummeted to earth. Recently, though, Captain Crunch came out to declare his tablet is still "steaming along" and he'll have "big news" shortly.

I'll believe that when I see it. No, even then I probably won't.

I'm not saying we won't see a gPhone, an Apple Tablet, or even the C-Pad in our lifetimes. I also might win the lottery. But there's no way any of them could live up to the hype that's been generated. So let's just declare them failures now, so we can move on to something else.

Did you hear that Google's working on a product that links directly to your brain? They've denied it, so it must be true. Pass it on.

What silly rumors have you heard lately? Which ones do you wish were true? Post them below or e-mail me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This story, "Welcome to the Golden Age of Vaporware," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in at InfoWorld.com.

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